Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - While saying that widespread and systematic murder and persecution by Boko Haram, the deadly militant Islamist group in northern Nigeria, is likely to amount to crimes against humanity, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Thursday indicted the Nigerian government when it revealed that State security forces have also engaged in numerous abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
HRW made its revelation in a 98-page report, titled “Spiraling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria”.
The report, received by PANA here, catalogues atrocities for which Boko Haram has claimed responsibility and 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 report says.
“The unlawful killing by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces only grows worse; both sides need to halt this downward spiral,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa Director at the HRW. “The Nigerian 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.
HRW 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, the report continues.
Since 2009, hundreds of attacks by suspected Boko Haram members have left more than 1,500 people dead, HRW said, quoting local media reports.
It said that 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 Hausa language, maily spoken in 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 long-standing 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, robbed banks and burnt down schools.
It recalled that 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 re-emerged 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.
The report said the federal government has responded to Boko Haram with a heavy hand, adding that 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.
It alleges that the Nigerian authorities have also arrested hundreds of people in raids across the north, many of them held incommunicado without charge or trial for months or even years.
It called on Boko Haram to immediately cease all attacks, and threats of attacks, that cause the loss of life, injury and destruction of property.
Human Rights Watch also said that the Nigerian government should take urgent measures to address the human rights abuses that have helped fuel the violent militancy.
“The Nigerian government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from violence, but also to respect international human rights law,” Bekele said, adding “Instead of abusive tactics that only add to the toll, the authorities should prosecute without delay those responsible for such serious crimes.”
-0- PANA PR/VAO 11Oct2012