On Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day was met with an open letter signed by activists and celebrities worldwide, calling for justice for the Nigerian protesters who had allegedly been attacked by police and jailed for taking part in the #EndSARS protests against military and police brutality.
The protests took place across the country in October and initially called for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a Nigerian police force formed in 1992 to combat robbery and other crimes. These protests were a demonstration against the violence, brutality, and abuse of power allegedly displayed by SARS and the national police.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi spearheaded the penning of the open letter addressed to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari demanding that he and his government be held accountable for suppressing the rights of young Nigerian citizens.
Singer Alicia Keys, actors Kerry Washington and Mark Ruffalo, and climate activist Greta Thunberg were among the 60 notable signatories of the open letter. The signatories called on President Buhari to end the ban on peaceful demonstrations in order to “ allow Nigerians their constitutional right to protest.”
For #HumanRightsDay I joined some powerful friends to call @MBuhari to account for the brutality against #EndSARS protesters. We penned an open letter in @nytimes & will continue to demand justice until all Black Lives Matter. Read, sign, share. 🌍🙏🏾 https://t.co/KIEyLaOOC5pic.twitter.com/4oKoHUt2Zq— Opal Tometi 🇳🇬🇺🇸 (@opalayo) December 10, 2020
“As signatories of this public letter we express our dismay and outrage at your administration’s violent response to the peaceful #EndSARS protests,” the letter begins.
The letter, which was published as an advert in the New York Times on International Human Rights’ Day, further asked Buhari to release jailed protesters and journalists who were exercising their right to protest, and to return confiscated passports and government IDs, and to unfreeze bank accounts.
Although Nigeria's Inspector General of Police announced in a statement released on Oct. 11 that SARS would be dissolved, the infringement of Nigerian human rights took a different form, as those linked to the protest have had their finances limited pending an investigation.
According to Reuters, the Central Bank of Nigeria acquired a 90-day court order to freeze the bank accounts of 20 people linked to the protests pending investigation by the bank. While the bank did not disclose the reasons for investigation, Reuters reported that the court order may be renewed.
Signatories of the open letter recognized this, and other actions taken by the Nigerian government, as a suppression of human rights and called on Buhari to “heed the call not only for the rights enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, but also those rights enshrined in the very constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
This is not the first time that Tometi has united a group of prominent people to stand up for the #EndSARS protests. In October she was joined by celebrities such as actresses Uzo Aduba and Yvonne Orji, theatre actress and singer Cynthia Erivo, and many more in a video posted to social media that called for the disbandment of SARS and highlighted the importance of the protests.
The open letter ends: “Nigeria deserves better. Africa deserves better. The world deserves better.”