The U.S. is concerned that Nigerian security forces may be using excessive force, including extra-judicial killings, as they fight Boko Haram militants in the north, the embassy in the capital, Abuja, said.
“We are concerned that such an indiscriminate, force-based approach to counterterrorism is increasing extremism and decreasing confidence in the federal government,” the U.S. Embassy said today in an e-mailed statement. “These tactics tarnish Nigeria’s reputation as an emerging leader and a stable democratic government.”
Between 185 and 228 people were killed in the northeastern town of Baga when security forces responded to an attack by suspected Boko Haram militants starting on April 16, according to local officials. The army says 30 insurgents, six civilians and a soldier were killed, and 30 houses were burned down. New York-based Human Rights Watch said satellite images of Baga show at least 2,000 homes were destroyed.
The Boko Haram Islamist group “has terrorized the people of northern Nigeria, killing thousands over the past three years with bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and coordinated attacks on security forces,” the U.S. said. “At the same time, we are deeply concerned by ongoing reports of excessive use of force by Nigerian security forces in the name of combating Boko Haram.”
The U.S. asked President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to “demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law” by ensuring that an investigation being carried out by the National Human Rights Commission into the incident is independent and transparent, the embassy said. The outcome of the investigation “must be made public” and those found culpable must be held accountable, according to the statement.
Jonathan canceled his visit to Namibia yesterday on his way back from South Africa to return to Nigeria and oversee the situation, Reuben Abati, Jonathan’s spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to the U.S. statement. The president has also encouraged an independent investigation by the human rights commission, Abati said.
“Where there has been any case of misconduct, the persons involved will be brought to justice,” he said. “There is no issue therefore as to the fact that the government will ensure accountability and the protection of the civilian population from terrorist attacks.”
Jonathan’s office said in an e-mailed statement on April 30 that preliminary reports confirm the military’s death toll, saying that the number of houses in the town is less than 1,000.
The military denies it targeted civilians with Defense Ministry spokesman Chris Olukolade saying Boko Haram fighters, armed with weapons including rocket-propelled grenades, set off incendiaries that destroyed the houses.