Gloria Egbuji, legal prac titioner and activist has been involved in social works and researches for over a decade. She is currently the executive director of Crime victim’s foundation, with focus on support for victims of crime and abuse of power. Her interaction with victims of crime, practitioners around the globe, law enforcement officials, sociologists and criminologist has added to her vast experience.
In this chat with Esther Onyegbula she talks about factors affecting law enforcement officials, the unethical manner in which they handle issues bordering on rape, challenges and the way forward
Thefoundation was set up in 1996 to give support to crime victims. The Law enforcement agencies cannot be isolated when issues of crime victims crop up. Over time, we discovered that victims of crime complain about law enforcement officials and the abuse of their rights . A field research was carried out on police officers and we discovered these officers didn’t know much on human rights. That was how we started training the police officers in human right. We felt that police officers would be willing to protect victims if they became trained knowing their rights and that of the victims.
Training main target
Trainings of this magnitude cuts across various departments, like: Mopol, SCID, Monitoring, Traffic and general duty. Officers are trained on human rights awareness, international human rights standard for law enforcement, how to deal with victims, suspects and witnesses of human rights abuse, investigative interviewing, exhibit handling, humanitarian laws, interpersonal skills, and report writing. The training is to equip the officers to man human right desks and dispose their duties professionally without violating the human rights of victims, suspects and witnesses. The human right officers’ report directly to the commissioner of police through the human right resource center located at the CP’s office. This process reduces bottlenecks and ensures that cases are treated with dispatch.
What are the roles of these human right officers?
The human rights officers have ensured that victims, suspects and witnesses are well treated with empathy. They ensure the cell are kept clean, cases that should go to court are sent to court within the time limits, bail is granted for bailable offences free. Generally, the violation of human rights by the police is now reduced. However the public must demand for their rights and report violation to human rights officers in their jurisdictions. The public should desist from payment for bail and report such monetary demands to the human right officers.
With your experience with crime victims, do you think our law enforcement are well sensitized to handle rape cases?
Police officers who handle rape cases are not sensitized enough to know the impact rape has on victims, there was an instance where a woman brought a seven year old child that was raped by an old man and the blood was still there, instead of the police taking the case up, they blamed the mother of the rape victim. Blames should not be apportioned to individuals. A crime that has been committed should be dealt with. When the police fiddle with issues, more damage is being caused and somebody’s dignity violated. Right tohuman dignity is number two in the whole list of human right as provided in our constitution
How would you rate Nigerians in terms of human right issues?
We are not doing well. In a democratic dispensation human right should be at its best. Situations where a person’s right are respected at all spheres. But for now it is not attainable because some people don’t even know what their human rights are, some don’t even know they have right. People just do what they like; the police are like mini-gods they don’t know where their power begins or ends.
The way out is through education and public enlightenment awareness creation about rights using the mass media and government outfits. The police need a whole lot of re-orientation, they need to be trained on the impact of crime on the victim, if they don’t know the impact of crime on a victim they will not be able to understand what a victim goes through. The way our police officers attend to rape issues is not helping issues.
Police should recreate a different unit on sexual offenses and do a thorough training for officers that will be in charge of the unit. I can help them apply to the USAID, UNISEF and some other foreign organization. They can train them and create a unit for them and then give them that knowledge and lesson.
Does the law allow the use of torture?
The human right of individuals determines how the police do their arrest, defines how the suspects are treated in the station, the laws detest. Paying for bail is not unconstitutional, likewise torture. In our law torture is prohibited, not even a state of war, state of emergency or disorder allows the torture of suspects. Torture is not only physical it can be emotional or psychological; because it is a violation to dignity of human person. There are laid down procedures for law enforcement officers, the fact that you committed a crime does not make you a criminal yet, until a judge says so. This breach is because the police officers don’t know where their power stops. There are so many ways to combat crime. Intelligence can be used to get information out of suspects instead of torture.
Challenges of the project?
The challenges range from inadequate funding to support the program, to resistance to change from some Divisional Police Officers who do not want to conform to the observance of human rights in their jurisdiction. There is also the challenge of the violations from some officers as the teeth and tools of human rights seem sharpest after the event when violations have already occurred. Working with police has a lot of challenges.