A shocking increase in attacks by Boko Haram along with uncontrolled retaliations by Nigeria’s security forces has seen the death toll in north-east Nigeria rise to at least 1,500 people this year, more than half of whom are civilians, according to a briefing by Amnesty International published yesterday (31 March).
Over half of the killings have been carried out by members of the Islamist armed group Boko Haram and among the victims are scores of schoolchildren who have been specifically targeted by armed violence.
Amnesty’s new briefing documents the atrocities committed by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian Security Forces this year. It highlights 14 March as a tipping point for the violence, when the security forces brutally executed over 600 mostly unarmed detainees.
Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa at Amnesty International said:
“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.
“More than 1,500 deaths in three months indicate an alarming deterioration in the situation. The international community cannot continue to look the other way in the face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes under international law being committed on a mass scale. Civilians are paying a heavy price as the cycle of violations and reprisals gather momentum.”
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 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.
One resident, Mallam Ibrahim, told Amnesty about the chaos he witnessed when military forces came across 56 of the escaped detainees:
“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.”
The international community must act with urgency to help end the conflict in the country. Amnesty is calling on the African Commission and the United Nations to work with the Nigerian government to ensure thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into these war crimes take place. Given Nigeria’s apparent unwillingness and inability to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of these crimes, Amnesty is also calling on the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to immediately address the escalating conflict in northeastern Nigeria and provide full and effective support to end these acts of violence against civilians.