Amnesty International (AI) has said both the Nigerian security agencies and the Boko Haram insurgents have committed war crimes in the troubled North-eastern part of the country.
In a statement issued on Sunday, March 30, 2014 AI said more than 1,500 people had been killed in the first three months of 2014. It said the situation in North-east region had escalated into a non-international armed conflict (civil war).
AI said it had documented the killings carried out in January, February and March 2014 by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces
“Amnesty International documents pattern of killings by Boko Haram and extra-judicial (summary) executions by Nigerian security forces “An increase in attacks by Boko Haram and uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces has seen the death toll in the North-east region rise to at least 1,500 people, more than half of whom are civilians, in the first three months of 2014.
“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,” Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa at Amnesty International, said in the statement.
He urged the international community to ensure prompt, independent investigations into acts that might constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
According to him, more than 1,500 deaths in three months indicate an alarming deterioration in the situation.
AI called on the international community to stop looking the other side in the face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes under international law being committed on a mass scale.
The organisation said civilians had paid heavy price as the cycle of violations and reprisals gathered momentum.
It said: “More than half of the killings have been carried out by members of the Islamist armed group Boko Haram, including scores of schoolchildren who have been the victims of deliberate attacks.”
The organisation said on March 14, Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, Borno State and 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,” the statement said.
AI said it had pieced together a partial timeline of events following the March 14 attack in Maiduguri.
It said the evidence was 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,” it said.
It said it had collected testimony of voices of witnesses who described what happened when the military found 56 of those who had escaped from the Giwa barracks.
It quoted one of the testimonies thus: “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 taking 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.”
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.”
AI said given Nigeria’s apparent unwillingness and inability to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of these crimes, it called on the African Commission and the United Nations to assist Nigeria in investigating acts that might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces in North-eastern Nigeria.
“The summary killing of these detainees amount to extra-judicial executions and are crimes under international law. These killings follow an entrenched pattern of deaths in custody of detainees held in relation to the situation in the northeast,” said Netsanet Belay.
It also called on the African Union (AU), 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,” said Netsanet Belay.
Meanwhile, troops from the 1 Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army Kaduna yesterday arrested about 18 people and recovered several arms in Laduga village, a Fulani settlement in Kachia Local Government Area of the state.
The army was said to have stormed the village in the early hours of yesterday following a tip off on an alleged plans for a reprisal attack over the killings of seven herdsmen in the southern part of the state shortly after the March 14 attacks on three villages in the local government area where about 125 people were killed in the attacked believed to have been carried out by Fulani herdsmen.
Acting on security tip off, the troops were said to have condoned the village for a search leading to the successfully arrest of 18 suspects while several arms where recovered.
The spokesman of the 1 Mechanised Division, Col. Usman Abdul, who confirmed the incident in a telephone interview, said the military carried out the action in good faith for public good.
Explaining how the purported reprisal attacks was botched, Abdul said: “We got reports that there is a possibility of reprisal attack following the killing of seven Fulani herdsmen after the killings in Manchok. It was this that influenced this foiled attack hence we moved into action, if not we would have been talking different a thing now.
“We do not want leave anything to chance rather we went into the area around 4a.m. and sealed the area. We recovered arms and arrested about 18 persons.”
He said the operation was carried out without any molestation on the people in the community.
“We did not molest anyone, our operation was brief and nothing more than that happened. My plea is people should continue to cooperate with us for peace and harmony,” he said.