Boris Johnson's minister for Africa, James Duddridge, has confirmed that the UK government provided training and equipment to the Nigerian SARS Police Unit, the group responsible for torture and extrajudicial killings taking place in Nigeria right now.
The #EndSARS movement drew global-level attention after horrific images and videos emerged out of Nigeria early October, including officers opening fire on hundreds of peaceful protesters—killing at least 12 people—and people repeatedly beaten and tortured by officers.
In a U-turn on a previously-held position, Duddridge admitted that British officials trained officers from the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) between 2016 and 2020, having initially denied any ties. In a letter sent to Labour MP Kate Osamor on Thursday, the minister said SARS officers had participated in training "designed to improve human rights, training on public finance, and community policing workshops", while confirming radio equipment was also provided to Nigerian police, which was subsequently used by SARS.
Speaking to The Independent, Osamor said: "It is shocking that in the middle of global protests to End SARS, our government appears to have had no idea whether or not it was funding those very units."
On 19 October the Minister for Africa @JamesDuddridge assured me that the UK Government had provided no funding to SARS units.— Kate Osamor| Labour - Co-operative MP| Edmonton || (@KateOsamor) October 29, 2020
That wasn't true. The Minister has now confirmed that the Government has trained and supplied equipment to SARS units from 2016 to 2020. #EndSARS pic.twitter.com/uDACZ1OHXL
After being formally accused by Amnesty International of torture and extra-judicial execution, the unit was disbanded on Oct. 11, but protests have continued in Nigeria, with citizens demanding wider law enforcement reform.
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK's foreign affairs adviser, said: "It's alarming that UK government funds have apparently been used to train and equip the notorious SARS police unit that for years has been operating with systematic torture. Whether the training has included human rights or not, such funding clearly warrants independent investigation, not least because serious abuses persist. Any training the UK provides to military and police abroad must be accountable."