By Amnesty International
Human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings, rape and torture committed by security forces in their fight against Boko Haram are spurring the very uprising they are meant to contain, Amnesty International said in Abuja.
In a report titled ‘Nigeria: Trapped in the cycle of violence’ released to journalists, the London-based rights group accused the Military and Police personnel of showing “little regard for the rule of law or human rights” in their operations.
The 76-page report detailed how hundreds of people accused of having links with Boko Haram have been arbitrarily detained, and others who did not pose any threat summarily executed outside their homes.
“Every injustice carried out in the name of security only fuels more terrorism, creating a vicious circle of murder and destruction,” said Amnesty’s secretary general Salil Shetty while unveiling the report in Abuja.
“You cannot protect people by abusing human rights and you cannot achieve security by creating insecurity,” he added.
But the Defence Headquarters in Abuja dismissed the report as “biased and mischievous,” while the Police said credibility of the report was doubtful because it quoted anonymous witnesses.
The Amnesty secretary general said the group’s experience of chronicling acts of terrorism in other countries showed that adopting the use of force to counter violence never worked and Nigeria needed to change its approach.
“Violating human rights in order to improve human condition might work in the short term but would backfire eventually. The only way to counter terrorism is with justice within the human rights framework,” Shetty said.
He said Amnesty received “mixed” reactions from government officials in meetings before the report was issued.
“The most important and positive reaction came from the office of NSA (National Security Adviser) and very encouragingly they have informed that they would investigate the cases we have identified and come out with a response,” he said.
But he added that many government officials have denied the existence of these abuses and “that is a bit more worrying because it is very important that early action is taken.”
‘Say your last prayer’
The Amnesty report detailed incidents of human rights abuses in Boko Haram-prone areas, relying on accounts of anonymous witnesses. It said it had sent a delegation to Kano and Borno between February and July to investigate reported atrocities.
“Amnesty International received consistent accounts of witnesses who saw 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,” the report said.
It added that a “significant number” of people accused of links with Boko Haram were extra judicially killed, while hundreds were detained without charge or trial and many of those arrested disappeared or were later found dead.
“People are living in a climate of fear and insecurity, vulnerable to attack from Boko Haram and facing human rights violations at the hands of the very state security forces which should be protecting them,” Shetty said.
Amnesty said it had spoken to witnesses who described seeing people who were unarmed and lying down with their hands over their heads shot at close range by soldiers.
In one case, a widow described how soldiers put a gun against her husband’s head three times and told him to say his last prayers before shooting him dead. They then burned down their home. She now fends for her seven children alone.
Cycle of violence
Amnesty estimates that more than 200 suspected Boko Haram members are being held at a barracks in Maiduguri, while more than 100 others are being held at a police station in Abuja. Dozens of others probably are being held at the headquarters of the State Security Service, and others elsewhere, it said.
Those held largely do not know where they are detained, cannot contact their families or speak to lawyers, in contravention of the law, Amnesty said. Many are shackled together for nearly the entire day, the report said. Those held at the police station in Abuja are kept in a former slaughterhouse where chains still hang from the ceiling, the rights group said.
“There were shots in the night. I was hearing the shooting of guns but I didn’t know what they are doing,” said one former detainee at the police station quoted in the Amnesty report. “When (the police) were collecting statements, some of us cannot speak English, and some of the officers cannot speak our language, so those that have difficulty, were beaten … Our lives were — we were not alive. We had no food, no water and no bath.”
In the report, Amnesty said it requested to see prisons, police stations, military detention centres and holding cells of the SSS but did not get access to the facilities.
Amnesty said Boko Haram’s relentless targeting of civilians “may constitute crimes against humanity,” but urged Nigeria “to take responsibility for its own failings” in combatting the insurgents.
“The cycle of attack and counter-attack has been marked by unlawful violence on both sides, with devastating consequences for the human rights of those trapped in the middle,” Shetty said.
Dozens of men and boys from Maiduguri in northern Nigeria have been reportedly shot by security forces as Amnesty International published a report condemning human rights violations by the security forces in response to the Boko Haram campaign of violence.
Amnesty International has received reports that between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning scores of men were taken out of their houses by the Joint Task Force (JTF) and the younger men were then shot.
According to information received by Amnesty International at least 30 bodies have been deposited at Maiduguri Teaching Hospital morgue with gun shot wounds.
One eye-witness told Amnesty International that on Thursday she saw dozens of bodies on the floor of the morgue with bullet wounds. Some burials took place on Friday morning.
These reports were received as Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, concluded a high level mission to Nigeria. He had presented the findings of Amnesty International’s latest report to members of the government and met with civil society members.
“These reports from Maiduguri are shocking,” said Salil Shetty as he prepared to leave Nigeria.
“They underline the importance of Amnesty International’s call for thorough investigation into all reports of human rights violations.”
“As Amnesty International’s report, launched this week, already emphasized, the security services must act within the law. You can’t build security through creating insecurity.”
Amnesty International met the Attorney General of the Federation following the launch of the report where he, on behalf of the President, made commitments to investigate all reports of human rights violations by the security forces and said that any state actor found responsible will be brought to justice.
Prior to the public launch on 1 November, the findings of the report were shared in a confidential written briefing to the relevant government bodies in August.
It was sent to the Minister of Police Affairs, the Minister of Interior, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Inspector General of Police, the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commissioners of Police for Borno and Kano states.
The document contained an appendix with the details of each case documented by Amnesty International, including the names, locations, the name of the relevant security agency involved, and requesting further information and an investigation into the reports.
The identities of some people were withheld from the final report – a public document with a global readership – to protect their safety.
“As a leading actor on the African and international stage, Nigeria must address the inherent problems with its security forces and show real respect for the rule of law,” said Shetty.
On the same day Amnesty International launched the report, delegates were granted permission to visit Special Anti-Robbery Squad police station Abuja to visit Ibrahim Umar, who remains detained there despite a court order for his release issued in August.
The delegates were told by the SARS police officers that he had been transferred to another station. After their departure, Amnesty International received information that Ibrahim Umar had, in fact, been taken to a different location within the station.
“It looks as though Ibrahim Umar was hidden from us with the express intention of concealing his whereabouts. It would be a significant step if the police could now release this man, respecting the court order,” said Shetty.
“We urge the government to act on its commitment to bring to justice all those responsible for human violations. A vital first step is to introduce a witness protection programme that makes those who are victims of human rights violations feel safe when they call on the police for protection.”