Amnesty International has called on the African Commission and the United Nations to assist Nigeria in investigating acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces in North-eastern Nigeria.
In its latest report, the international watchdog allege that at least 1500 people, mainly civilians, were killed in the first quarter of 2014 alone in attacks staged by the Boko Haram sect and uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces.
“The escalation of violence in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014 has developed into a situation of non-international armed conflict in which all parties are violating international humanitarian law. We urge the international community to ensure prompt, independent investigations into acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the research and advocacy director for Africa at Amnesty International, Netsanet Belay said.
He said more than 1,500 deaths in three months indicate an alarming deterioration in the situation and that civilians, schoolchildren who have been the victims of deliberate attacks, are paying a heavy price as the cycle of violations and reprisals gather momentum.
An Amnesty International documentary of the killings carried out in January, February and March 2014 by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian Security Forces, highlights March 14 as a tipping point when the security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown on former detainees.
“On 14 March Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, Borno state. They reportedly fought their way into the detention facilities and freed several hundred detainees. Amnesty International has received credible evidence that as the military regained control, more than 600 people, mostly unarmed recaptured detainees, were extra-judicially executed in various locations across Maiduguri,” Belay said.
He said the evidence is based on interviews with residents, lawyers, human rights campaigners, and hospital staff across the city as well as satellite imagery showing three possible mass graves in one area of Maiduguri.
“The scale of atrocities carried out by Boko Haram is truly shocking creating a climate of fear and insecurity. But this cannot be used to justify the brutality of the response that is clearly being meted out by the Nigerian security forces,” the director stated.
Amongst the testimony gathered by Amnesty International were the voices of witnesses who described what happened when the military found 56 of those who had escaped from the Giwa barracks.
“The former detainees were in a classroom. They started screaming ‘we are not Boko Haram. We are detainees!’ My neighbours and I saw the soldiers take the men to a place called ‘no man’s land,’ behind the University of Maiduguri. We watched as the soldiers opened fire killing all 56. They were killed in front of us. All of them,” one witness said.
Other eyewitnesses in Jiddari Polo, also in Maiduguri, described how members of the “Civilian Joint Task Force” rounded up freed prisoners and handed them to soldiers. More than 190 people were executed, many of whom were too frail to run.
“I saw the soldiers asking the people to lie on the ground. There was a small argument between the soldiers and the civilian JTF. The soldiers made some calls and a few minutes later they started shooting the people on the ground. I counted 198 people killed at that checkpoint,” he said.
Amnesty International says that the summary killing of these detainees amount to extrajudicial executions and are crimes under international law, stressing that “these killings follow an entrenched pattern of deaths in custody of detainees held in relation to the situation in the northeast.”
It said the international community and in particular the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the UN Human Rights Council, must, as a matter of urgency, ensure that a thorough, impartial and transparent investigation is conducted into these allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nigeria.
Amnesty International is also calling on the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to assess immediately the conflict situation in north-eastern Nigeria and provide full and effective support to end these acts of violence against civilians.
“As Nigeria assumes the chairmanship of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council next month, the AU needs to critically ask itself how far its member States are living up to their commitment to uphold the principles of the African Union and respect for rule of law and human rights,” Belay added.