Attacks by Islamist militants and abuses by the Nigerian government have trapped civilians in “a vicious cycle of violence,” Amnesty International said.
The Boko Haram group’s bombings and gun attacks as part of a campaign to impose Islamic law in Africa’s top oil producer may constitute crimes against humanity, the London-based rights group said in a report today. It also accused the Nigerian security forces of perpetrating “serious human rights violations in their response.” The military has denied the charges.
“The cycle of attacks and counter attacks has been marked by unlawful violence on both sides with devastating consequences for the human rights of the people trapped in the middle,” Amnesty said in the report.
Attacks by Boko Haram, which started its insurgency in 2009, have killed more than 1,000 people since 2010, Amnesty said. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for bombings and gun attacks in the mainly Muslim north and the capital, Abuja, targeting churches, government buildings, police, soldiers, officials and Muslims who disagree with the group.
President Goodluck Jonathan in January called the insurgency a more serious threat to Africa’s biggest oil producer than the 1967-1970 Biafran civil war.
“The group has killed Muslim and Christian clerics and worshipers, politicians, journalists and lawyers, as well as police and soldiers,” Amnesty said. “Attacks targeting civilians demonstrate disregard for the right to life.”
The Nigerian government has failed to protect the population by investigating and punishing the perpetrators of violence, with few perpetrators being tried and convicted, Amnesty said. Instead, the security forces are guilty of human rights violations, it said.
“Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International described seeing people who were clearly no threat to life -– unarmed, lying down or with their hands over their head or cooperating -– shot at close range by the security forces,” Amnesty said in the report.
“The report feels that the security forces are consistency operating outside the law,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s secretary general, told reporters today in Abuja. “This is not the way to counter terror. No crimes committed by Boko Haram, no human rights violations committed by Boko Haram, can justify human rights violations by security forces.”
The military in Borno state where Boko Haram started “has no record of extra-judicial killings,” Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the Joint Force in the region, said on Oct. 11. “The Nigerian army is not trained to kill innocent civilians, but to protect them, and that’s what they’ve been doing.”
The Nigerian police takes criticism of the force seriously, and “has begun a comprehensive and critical study of the report with a view to establishing its veracity and relevance vis-a-vis our contemporary security challenges and needs,” police spokesman Frank Mba said today in an e-mailed statement.
Amnesty said witnesses also reported seeing people “summarily executed outside their homes, shot dead during operations, after arrest, or beaten to death in detention or in the street by security forces in Maiduguri,” Borno’s capital.
The response of the security forces “is not only illegal, it is very likely to fuel the cycle of attack and counterattack, exposing thousands of people to the risk of serious human rights violations and abuses,” Amnesty said.
While the police “is deeply concerned over a key research methodology” in the report, such as using unnamed sources, “the Nigeria Police will continue to do everything humanly possible to improve the capacity and efficiency of its service delivery,” Mba said.