Even as new reports from international human rights groups document a pattern of major offenses against human rights by both Boko Haram extremists and government security forces in northern Nigeria, new incidents in the most affected area of Nigeria's northeast include execution of some 40 people by security forces in Maiduguri and the assassination the next day of retired General Muhammadu Shuwa. Boko Haram has denied government charges that they were responsible for killing the general.
Reports from both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, based on new investigations this year, bave documented indiscriminate violence against civilians claimed by Boko Haram. The security force response, however, has also been characterized by indiscriminate violence against civilians suspect of supporting or harboring Boko Haram.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a brief news report and analysis of security force actions from Radio Netherlands Worldwide, two press releases from Amnesty International from earlier this month, and a press release from Human Rights Watch from October. The full Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports are available at the links given below.
Earlier this year, some U.S. officials were proposing that Boko Haram be officially designated a terrorist organization, a measure that would have been counterproductive. Fortuntely, the U.S. government has followed the advice of its own Africa specialists and so far refrained from taking such a step. See http://www.africafocus.org/docs12/bh1206.php
For recent news on Nigeria, visit http://allafrica.com/nigeria
For a tribute to the assassinated General Shuwa, see http://allafrica.com/stories/201211040201.html
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, see http://www.africafocus.org/country/nigeria.php - Editor's Note
Nigeria: Who's Doing More Damage? Boko Haram or Joint Task Force?
by Kingsley Madueke, Nigeria, 5 November 2012
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Boko Haram and security forces have been in an ongoing battle.
Since 2009 an estimated 2,800 people have died as a result of Boko Haram's insurgency and the military response by the Nigerian government. After a recent spate of killings by security agents, some Maiduguri residents feel this destruction now overshadows the menace of the Islamist sect.
Thirty young men were killed last month and another 40 publicly shot last Thursday by operatives of the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF).
"What is happening in Maiduguri is very disturbing and heartbreaking," says a young grains trader, who prefers to remain anonymous. "I lost three cousins in one of these killings. The murderous activities of soldiers and policemen who kill senselessly must be stopped. The thirty young men who were killed last month had no trial to prove their guilt. I swear: if the youths get angry, not even the soldiers can stop them."
Government patience gone
The administration of Goodluck Jonathan has apparently run out of patience with the Islamist sect after repeatedly failing at establishing communication.
"You can't blame the soldiers," says a civil servant from Maiduguri who is spending his annual leave in Jos in the Plateau State. "The government has tried to talk but the sect refuses to come to the dialogue table and they continue to wreck havoc on Nigerians. It's very unfortunate that innocent Nigerians are caught in the crossfire but I'm happy with what the soldiers are doing. I think the use of force is the only option the Nigerian government has."
"I think the destruction and killings by soldiers in Maiduguri are avoidable," says David Bah, a student of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi. "The soldiers are very angry with the residents because they often accommodate and shield the terrorists. If community members cooperate with the soldiers I'm sure some of the extrajudicial killings will be avoided."
"I was born in Gwange area of Miaduguri," says the grains trader who conducts his his work between Bauchi, Gombe and the south of Nigeria. "I don't look forward to going home because almost daily I get phone calls from home about my peers being killed by soldiers. They're supposed to protect us. But if they keep killing us, how can we trust them or even offer help?"
Lack of community cooperation
The effectiveness of counter-terrorism depends largely on the level of cooperation between government forces and local communities. In Maiduguri, the main base for Boko Haram, the JTF is apparently failing to inspire the required confidence and trust among locals. Besides improving the conduct of JTF agents and their intelligence gathering and interagency cooperation, the government must also address general living conditions, many locals say.
"Whether we admit it or not, Boko Haram is a reflection of government's insensitivity to the plight of poor Nigerians," says Sani, a young graduate assistant at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.
"The so-called terrorists are poor Nigerians who are tired of poverty, deprivation and the lack of basic social amenities as a result of corruption among government officials. The government and JTF must know that the use of force is very counter-productive in this context because the people are only crying out for a better life. So give it to them instead of killing them."
"One of our profession's key principles is the respect for higher authority," says a young police officer, who prefers to remain anonymous, serving with the Special Task Force in Jos. "Once an order is given, you risk a query or some form of punishment if you disobey. I don't look forward to spilling innocent blood and I'm sure no security agent in his right senses enjoys it. But sometimes as a rank-and-file you don't have any choice than to do what you've been ordered to do."
Nigeria: Security forces out of control in fight against terror of Boko Haram
Press Release AI Index: PRE01/520/2012
01 November 2012
(Abuja) The brutal actions of Nigeria's security forces in response to Boko Haram's campaign of terror are making an already desperate situation even worse, Amnesty International said in a report released today.
The report, Nigeria: Trapped in the cycle of violence, documents the atrocities carried out by Boko Haram as well as the serious human rights violations carried out by the security forces in response, including enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial executions, the torching of homes and detention without trial.
"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," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
"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."
Grave human rights abuses have been committed by Boko Haram including murder, burning down schools and churches and attacking media houses and journalists. The report documents the increasing climate of fear where people are too scared to report crimes and journalists will not cover them out of fear for their own safety.
At the same time, the security operations targeting Boko Haram have been conducted with little regard for the rule of law or human rights.
Hundreds of people accused of having links to Boko Haram have been arbitrarily detained by a combination of the Joint Task Force (JTF) - a combined forces group commissioned by the President to restore law and order in areas affected by Boko Haram - the State Security Service (SSS) and the police.
Many have remained in detention for lengthy periods without charge or trial, without proper notification of family members, without being brought before any judicial authority, and without access to lawyers or the outside world. A significant number have even been extra-judicially executed.
One man explained to Amnesty International how his brother was arrested by security forces. After several attempts to find him, he eventually saw his dead body at a police station. "There were [what looked like] cable marks on his body, bruises everywhere???The right side of his head was bruised. There was shock on his face. I can't forget that???I haven't made a complaint. I'm afraid."
"The government of Nigeria must take effective action to protect the population against Boko Harem's campaign of terror in northern and central Nigeria, but they must do so within the boundaries of the rule of law. Every injustice carried out in the name of security only fuels more terrorism, creating a vicious circle of murder and destruction," said Salil Shetty.
"Only by clarifying the truth about events, establishing accountability for abuses, and bringing to justice those responsible can confidence in the justice system be restored and human rights be guaranteed."
Note to editors:
An Amnesty International delegation visited Kano and Borno states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between February and July 2012.
They interviewed victims of attacks, family members of people who have been killed, arrested or detained and those whose houses had been burnt down. The team also met with key government ministers, representatives of the security forces, judges, teachers, journalists and lawyers.
The delegation requested but was denied access to prisons, police stations, military or State Security Service (SSS) detention facilities.
Nigeria: Independent investigation into Maiduguri killings vital
Amnesty International, Press Release
2 November 2012
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 AntiRobbery 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."
Nigeria: Boko Haram Attacks Likely Crimes Against Humanity Security Force Abuses Help Fuel Spiraling Violence
Human Rights Watch
October 11, 2012
(Abuja) - Widespread and systematic murder and persecution by Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group in northern Nigeria likely amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Government security forces have also engaged in numerous abuses, including extrajudicial killings, Human Rights Watch said.
The 98-page report, "Spiraling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria," catalogues atrocities for which Boko Haram has claimed responsibility. It also explores the role of Nigeria's security forces, whose own alleged abuses contravene international human rights law and might also constitute crimes against humanity. The violence, which first erupted in 2009, has claimed more than 2,800 lives.
"The unlawful killing by both Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces only grows worse; both sides need to halt this downward spiral," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Nigeria's government should swiftly bring to justice the Boko Haram members and security agents who have committed these serious crimes."
The report, which includes a photo essay, is based on field research in Nigeria between July 2010 and July 2012, and the continuous monitoring of media reports of Boko Haram attacks and statements since 2009. Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 135 people, including 91 witnesses and victims of Boko Haram violence or security forces abuses, as well as lawyers, civil society leaders, government officials, and senior military and police personnel.
Since 2009, hundreds of attacks by suspected Boko Haram members have left more than 1,500 people dead, according to media reports monitored by Human Rights Watch. In the first nine months of 2012 alone, more than 815 people died in some 275 suspected attacks by the group - more than in all of 2010 and 2011 combined.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin" in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria, seeks to impose a strict form of Sharia, or Islamic law, in northern Nigeria and end government corruption. Widespread poverty, corruption, police abuse, and longstanding impunity for a range of crimes have created a fertile ground for violent militancy in Nigeria, Human Rights Watch said.
Boko Haram's attacks - centered in northern Nigeria - have primarily targeted police and other government security agents, Christians, and Muslims working for or accused of cooperating with the government.The group has also bombed newspaper offices and the United Nations building in the capital, Abuja; attacked beer halls and robbed banks; and burned down schools.
Five days of clashes between the group and security forces, and brazen execution-style killings by both sides, left more than 800 people dead in July 2009 and precipitated further violence. Security personnel in 2009 arrested and summarily executed the group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, along with at least several dozen of his followers, in the northern city of Maiduguri.
When the group reemerged in 2010 under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, Yusuf's former deputy, it vowed to avenge the killings of its members. Suspected Boko Haram members have since attacked more than 60 police stations in at least 10 northern and central states and bombed the police headquarters in Abuja. According to media reports monitored by Human Rights Watch, at least 211 police officers have been killed in these attacks.
A widow of a police officer killed by Boko Haram said that members of the group attacked a police barracks in the city of Kano in January 2012 while disguised in police uniforms: I was standing in the doorway. I saw five men in mobile police uniforms. They had AK-47s. They didn't say anything. One of them shot me in the leg and I fell inside the house. My husband, he was in uniform, came out and saw them. He had no gun. He asked, "Colleagues, why did you shoot my wife?" And then they shot him, bang in the forehead. He fell down [dead]. Police took the woman to the hospital the next morning where doctors amputated her right leg above the knee.
Boko Haram has also claimed responsibility for targeting and killing numerous Christians in northern Nigeria. Suspected members of the group have bombed or opened fire on worshipers in at least 18 churches across eight northern and central states since 2010. In Maiduguri, the group also forced Christian men to convert to Islam on penalty of death, Human Rights Watch found.
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen, often riding motorcycles and carrying AK-47s under their robes, have also gunned down more than a dozen Muslim clerics and assassinated traditional leaders for allegedly speaking out against its tactics or for cooperating with authorities to identify group members. The group also has claimed responsibility for killing northern politicians and civil servants - nearly all Muslims.
"Boko Haram has callously murdered people while they pray at church services in northern Nigeria," Bekele said. "It has also gunned down Muslims who openly oppose the group's horrific violence."
Nigeria's government has responded to Boko Haram with a heavy hand. Security forces have killed hundreds of Boko Haram suspects and other members of the public with no apparent links to the group, in the name of ending the group's threat to the country's citizens. But the authorities have rarely prosecuted those responsible for the Boko Haram violence or security force personnel for their abuses.
During security raids in communities where attacks have occurred, the military have allegedly engaged in excessive use of force and other human rights violations, such as burning homes, physical abuse, and extrajudicial killings, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
The Nigerian authorities have also arrested hundreds of people in raids across the north. Many of these people have been held incommunicado without charge or trial for months or even years. In some cases they have been detained in inhuman conditions and subject to physical abuse or death. The fate of many of those detained remains unclear.
Boko Haram should immediately cease all attacks, and threats of attacks, that cause loss of life, injury, and destruction of property, Human Rights Watch said. The Nigerian government should take urgent measures to address the human rights abuses that have helped fuel the violent militancy.
"Nigeria's government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from violence, but also to respect international human rights law," Bekele said. "Instead of abusive tactics that only add to the toll, the authorities should prosecute without delay those responsible for such serious crimes."