NEW DELHI: Thousands of people killed extrajudicially, tens of thousands arbitrarily held, innumerable acts of torture in conflict-torn Nigeria… this may read like the brutal acts of violence perpetrated by militant group Boko Haram, but is in fact the basis of a new report by Amnesty International detailing the war crimes committed by the Nigerian military.

In the course of security operations against Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, Nigerian military forces have extrajudicially executed more than 1,200 people; they have arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, mostly young men and boys; and have committed countless acts of torture, Amnesty International says.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance; and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention. Amnesty International has concluded that these acts, committed in the context of a non-international armed conflict, constitute war crimes for which military commanders bear both individual and command responsibility, and may amount to crimes against humanity.

Source: Amnesty International

The conflict in Nigeria dates back to 2009, when the Islamist insurgent movement popularly known as Boko Haram waged a violent campaign against the Nigerian government.

The conflict has spread and intensified as a result of a complex web of socio-cultural, economic, ethno-religious and sub-regional factors. It has evolved into a non-international armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces in the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa and has been marked by egregious violations committed by both sides, the report states.

It has claimed at least 17,000 lives, mostly civilian, and forced more than one million people to flee their homes.

Amnesty International states that it believes that the situation in north-east Nigeria has constituted a non international armed conflict since at least May 2013, given the level of hostilities and the fact that Boko Haram was a well-organized force which controlled territory and had a clear command structure.

Boko Haram has used bombs to launch attacks against government or “western” targets, to intimidate opponents and to kill civilians. Its fighters have slaughtered civilians during attacks on towns and villages; assaulted and abducted teachers and students; abducted at least 2,000 young women and girls and subjected many of them to forced marriage; forcibly recruited men and boys; and burned and destroyed houses and schools.

The report documents abuses committed by Boko Haram fighters, concluding that they amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Amnesty International’s recent report, ‘Our job is to shoot, slaughter and kill’: Boko Haram’s reign of terror in north-east Nigeria, contains information on Boko Haram’s organizational structure, recruitment tactics, resources, and details abuses committed by the group from 2013 to 2015.

In 2012, as attacks by Boko Haram intensified, former President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency, which was subsequently extended repeatedly, in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. The state of emergency gave overly broad emergency powers to the security forces. Former President Goodluck Jonathan set up a Joint Task Force to lead the operations against Boko Haram, which included personnel from the Nigerian Army, Police Force and other security forces. The army took full control of operations against Boko Haram in August 2013.

The authorities set up a civilian militia in 2013, the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), to work with the security forces in Borno state by identifying and helping to arrest Boko Haram members. Civilian JTF members play a key role in mass arbitrary arrests and in screening operations in which informants point out Boko Haram suspects. Civilian JTF members have been involved, as Amnesty International has documented, in beating and killing men after their arrests. In mid-2013, the security forces pushed Boko Haram out of the cities and towns of northeast Nigeria where they had lived among the population. Boko Haram fighters moved to remote communities and camps, such as their headquarters in Sambisa forest, Borno state. From these bases, Boko Haram launched almost daily attacks against civilian targets.

In July 2014, Boko Haram’s strategy changed as it retained control over captured towns and villages, collecting “taxes” from residents, and limiting their movement. At its greatest extent, territory under Boko Haram control extended across most parts of Borno, northern Adamawa and into eastern Yobe states. In March 2015, after a renewed counter-offensive, the military announced that they had recaptured most of this territory.

Since the start of the conflict, the budgets for defence and security have increased massively but there is little sign of the money reaching the frontline. Operations in the north-east remain under-resourced and corruption is rife.

Amnesty International documented 27 incidents of extrajudicial executions committed by the military in 2013 and 2014. At least 1,200 men and boys, almost certainly many more, were killed in these incidents. In 14 of these cases, Nigerian military forces, sometimes in collaboration with Civilian JTF members, executed a large number of people, at times dozens or even hundreds in one day. The precise number of extrajudicial executions is impossible to verify due to the lack of records, cover-up efforts by the military, and the difficulty of reaching witnesses in the areas where the crimes were committed.

Cases presented in the report provide documentation of extrajudicial executions in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Amnesty International’s research shows that the military extrajudicially executed people after they had been captured and when they presented no danger, in violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Many were shot dead inside detention facilities, while others were either shot or had their throats cut after being captured during cordon-and-search operations. One of the most horrific mass extrajudicial executions by the military happened on 14 March 2014 in Maiduguri, Borno state. In the aftermath of a Boko Haram attack on the military detention facility at Giwa barracks during which the detainees were released, the military killed at least 640 men and boys, most of them recaptured detainees. In March 2014, Amnesty International published a detailed report documenting the killings of at least 622 people who had escaped from Giwa barracks.

The report presents additional information about the extrajudicial execution of at least 18 other men on that day, including the analysis of videos showing some of the executions. Other cases of mass extrajudicial executions documented by Amnesty International include the execution of 64 detainees in Presidential Lodge (Guardroom) detention facility in Damaturu, Yobe state on 18 April 2013 and the killings of at least 185 people during a “mop-up” operation in Baga on 17 April 2013.

Data collected by Amnesty International suggests that since March 2011, more than 7,000 men and boys have died in detention, their deaths often unrecorded and almost never investigated. Amnesty International gathered the data and the details of individual cases through visits to mortuaries, internal military reports, statistics recorded by local human rights activists and interviews with witnesses, victims, former detainees, hospital staff, mortuary personnel and military sources.

The highest death rates were recorded in Giwa barracks in May, June and July 2013, where up to 180 deaths were recorded on some days. In June alone, more than 1,400 corpses were delivered from the barracks to one of the mortuaries in Maiduguri.

Obtaining information on the precise number of deaths in custody became particularly challenging after August 2012, when the military instructed the mortuaries in Maiduguri not to keep records, possibly in an effort to hide the high rate of deaths in detention. In addition, according to military sources and witnesses, not all of the bodies were taken from the barracks to mortuaries; some were buried by soldiers in mass graves.

Based on eyewitness testimonies and analysis of video and photographic evidence, as well as information contained in military reports, Amnesty International believes that the main causes of deaths in detention were starvation, thirst, severe overcrowding that led to spread of diseases, torture and lack of medical attention, and the use of fumigation chemicals in unventilated cells.

Detention facilities in Giwa barracks and in military detention centres in Damaturu were extremely overcrowded, with hundreds of detainees packed into small cells. Former detainees told Amnesty International that they had to take turns sleeping or even sitting on the floor as there was absolutely no space in the cells. They said they were given food once a day – a small amount of rice that would fit in their palms – and never received medical assistance, even for life-threatening conditions.

Former detainees, human rights defenders, hospital staff and people who witnessed and recorded the removal and disposal of bodies all said that most of the bodies looked extremely thin and did not have gunshot wounds. One witness told Amnesty International: “The corpses look skinny, hungry, emaciated, with dry lips and with several signs of disease.” Amnesty International delegates also witnessed this when they visited the mortuary and saw bodies that had been delivered by a military convoy.

Torture and lack of medical assistance for injuries caused by torture is another major cause of death in military detention. Torture in detention is rampant and many former detainees who were tortured in detention told Amnesty International that no medical assistance was provided for even life-threatening injuries.

Saleh Jega (not his real name), a 25-year-old carpenter from Maiduguri, was arrested along with 18 others on 25 November 2012 during a cordon-and-search operation in Gwange, and taken to Giwa Barracks. He escaped after more than 15 months when Boko Haram attacked the barracks. He said that some days 50 or up to 80 people died, mainly of starvation and thirst. Out of the 19 he was arrested with, only four survived.

“We have a sense that they just want us to die. Many people died in the cells. Any time we were denied water for two days, 300 people died [in those two days]. Sometimes we drink people’s urine, but even the urine you at times could not get. Every day they died, and whenever someone died, we [the other detainees] were happy because of the extra space. And because we will be taken out, to take out the corpses, and the military will give us water to wash our hands and when washing our hands, we drink the water.”

In areas of Boko Haram activity, Nigerian troops, often with the support of Civilian JTF members, have arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people. On numerous occasions,particularly following Boko Haram raids, soldiers have gone to the town or village, rounded up hundreds of men and boys and taken into custody those identified as Boko Haram by paid informants. Amnesty International has also documented arrests during house-to-house raids and at checkpoints, as well as targeted arrests of suspected Boko Haram members’ relatives. Most of those arrested are young men, although Amnesty International has recorded arrests and detention of boys as young as nine years old. Amnesty International has also documented the arrest and detention of 30 women and girls.

The number of arrests increased significantly following the imposition of a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. According to military sources, between January 2012 and July 2013, more than 4,500 people were arrested. A document released by the Headquarters of the Joint Task Force on 30 June 2013 states that between 16 May 2013 and 30 June 2013, 916 “Boko Haram suspects” were arrested. The actual number is likely to be much higher as there is no proper, centralized system to record arrests carried out by the security forces.

A few of those arrested were released shortly after, sometimes because their families had paid bribes; a small proportion have been prosecuted and tried; hundreds were executed and thousands died in detention; and the rest are held indefinitely in unauthorized and unacknowledged military detention, denied contact with lawyers or relatives, without formal charges, and without ever appearing in court.

The vast majority of arrests carried out by the military appear to be entirely arbitrary, often based solely on the dubious word of an informant. Military sources repeatedly told Amnesty International that the informants are unreliable and often provide false information in order to get paid.

Link to the full report: