March 31 (Bloomberg) -- Nigerian security forces and Islamist militants are violating international law in a struggle that’s killed at least 1,500 people so far this year, more than half of them civilians, Amnesty International said.
“The escalation of violence in northeastern 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 the London-based group, said today in a statement.
This year’s death toll has more than doubled from the 600 people who Amnesty said were killed in January and February, as fighting between government forces and insurgents loyal to Boko Haram intensified this month in the northeast of Africa’s biggest oil producer.
Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, has carried out a violent campaign since 2009 to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, a nation of about 170 million people that is broadly split between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Boko Haram on March 14 raided the army’s Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, an attack that the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau said was meant to free 2,000 of his followers. A suicide bomber suspected to belong to the group on March 25 killed at least eight people when he rammed a car laden with explosives into a police van in Maiduguri.
Nigerian security forces have carried out “uncontrolled reprisals,” Amnesty said, identifying the Giwa raid as having sparked an especially bloody response.
“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,” it said.
Amnesty called for independent investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati’s mobile phone was switched off, and military spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade didn’t respond to calls seeking comment.
“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,” Amnesty International said.
The conflict in the northeast is a key political issue as Nigeria approaches elections next year. President Goodluck Jonathan, who declared a state of emergency in three northeastern zones in May, hasn’t said whether he’ll run for re-election.
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