Nigeria’s security forces continue to commit serious human rights violations in their response to Boko Haram. Since 2009, thousands of people suspected of having links to Boko Haram have been extra-judicially executed or unlawfully killed by the Nigerian army and police. Hundreds more have been victims of enforced disappearances and since 2012, thousands of suspects died in military and police custody.
The JTF frequently conducts raids usually following attacks by Boko Haram in which ordinary people are arrested en masse and detained in military detention centres for lengthy periods, often without charge or trial and without access to their families and lawyers.
Amnesty International’s research has also found that the security forces appear to have repeatedly used firearms against people when there is no imminent threat of death or serious injury and have intentionally used lethal force in circumstances other than when it was strictly necessary to protect life.
In 2014, as attacks by Boko Haram intensified, the military has responded by stepping up its operations against Boko Haram camps in Borno state. In the first three months of the year, over 400 suspected Boko Haram members were killed in JTF raids and in firefights during Boko Haram attacks on towns. 38 civilians have also allegedly been killed by the military this year. In addition, at least 150 detainees died in military custody.
On 19 March 2014, Amnesty International received information that the military had bombed Kayamla village, killing 10 civilians. According to one staff at the State Specialist Hospital who spoke to six wounded people from the village, the fighter jet launched series of bombs on the village after community people had given information to the army that some Boko Haram fighters fleeing Maiduguri after the attack on Giwa barracks had passed through the village. Many villagers sustained injuries. When Amnesty International spoke to the hospital staff on Wednesday 26 March 2014, he reported that two of the six wounded people have died in hospital from injuries sustained by fragments.
THE “CIVILIAN JOINT TASK FORCE”
The “Civilian JTF”, loosely organised vigilantes, was set up in 2013 in Maiduguri, Borno state to work with the Nigerian security forces to restore normalcy to the state. Their primary responsibility, according to security and government officials, is to identify and help arrest suspected Boko Haram members. There are consistent reports of human rights abuses by the Civilian JTF.
The name “Civilian JTF” is being used to show the association between the JTF (comprising the Nigerian army, Police and State Security Services) and the civilians who have volunteered to serve as vigilantes in the fight against Boko Haram in Borno state.
The group of vigilantes emerged after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a State of Emergency in in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe state in May 2013. Initially it had no command structure. It was not established by law and has no known Code of Conduct. As the months progressed, however, selected individuals were made “commanders” and “area coordinators”. Members of the “Civilian JTF” are supervised by Nigerian security forces. They give information and hand over Boko Haram suspects to the security forces (otherwise known as JTF). Several hundreds have been trained by the authorities. According to local sources, they receive regular allowances. There is no known recruitment procedure.
Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have expressed concerns about the use of children between the ages of 15 – 17 manning checkpoints for the “Civilian Joint Task Force” in Maiduguri.
Nigeria is state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, which prohibits the recruitment and use of children under 18 in hostilities by armed groups distinct from the country’s armed forces.
HUNDREDS UNLAWFULLY KILLED BY THE NIGERIAN SECURITY FORCES ON 14
On Friday 14 March, at 7 am Boko Haram members attacked the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, Borno state and opened the cells to release the more than 1,000 detainees, who were arrested under suspicion of being members or sympathisers of Boko Haram. A video released by Boko Haram shows gunmen entering the Giwa military barracks, setting ablaze scores of vehicles in the compound, before releasing hundreds of people, including women, children. Many of those released looked frail and were barefooted.
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that the attackers came from a nearby village and crossed the Yedzaram River.
One resident in Mairi, Mallam Ibrahim1 described what he saw during the attack: “On Friday morning around 7 to 7:30 in the morning, I heard gunshots. I came out to the back of my house and saw gunmen running towards the barracks. I live close to the barracks. We were all scared. We knew the day is going to be very bad for all of us. We stayed indoors with my family. The gunshots continued non-stop. It took about an hour before we heard the fighter jet.”
“A few minutes later, we saw lots of people coming towards our house from the barracks. Many of them look hungry, barefooted and were asking for water. Some did not even have full clothes on. We came out and started helping them. We gave them water and some fruits. We later took them to a classroom in the University of Maiduguri. They were 56 in total. They told us they are all detainees from Giwa,” added Ibrahim.
A human rights defender interviewed by Amnesty International said the detainees told him that after their cells were opened by Boko Haram, the detainees were given the option of either joining the attackers or going home. Many of the detainees decided to go home. Boko Haram is said to have taken some of their members who were detained and then left Maiduguri.
Another resident at Jiddari Polo, in Maiduguri told Amnesty International that many of the detainees were unable to walk. He said many looked starved and frail.
Mallam Ibrahim and one other resident in Mairi told Amnesty International that, less than an hour after the detainees left the barracks, two Hilux trucks filled with government soldiers came to the scene where the 56 former detainees were gathered. Mallam Ibrahim said:“[The soldiers] asked all of us to leave the area. The former detainees were all in the classroom. They started screaming ‘we are not Boko Haram.
We are detainees!’ I and my other neighbours saw the soldiers take the former detainees to a nearby place called ‘no man’s land,’ behind the University of Maiduguri. We stood there and watched while the soldiers opened fire and killed the 56 people we had just given fruits and water. They were shot and killed in front of us. All of them. Just like that.”
According to Mallam Ibrahim, among the 56 people executed by the army was a 15 year old boy. He said the boy told them he was arrested in May 2013 with sixteen other young boys between the ages of 15 and 19 years. He said: “The boy told us he was the only survivor to have come out [among the 17] of Giwa as all his colleagues had died in detention. He had just finished giving me the name and address of his mother when the soldiers arrived. He was killed with the others. I don’t know if I should tell his parents or not.”
In the following hours, many of the escaped detainees were re-arrested, gathered together and executed. Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International of similar killings by soldiers of groups of thin and frail looking people in other areas of Maiduguri city and other localities such as Abujan Kalankawa and Dunomari. In several photos received by Amnesty International from a resident who witnessed the killings there are visible marks of old wounds and laceration on the bodies of the deceased.
Eyewitnesses from other locations such as Jiddari and 202 Housing Estate in Maiduguri also confirmed that most of the people killed after the Friday 14 March attack were detainees who fled Giwa barracks and were captured and handed over to the soldiers by members of the “civilian JTF”. None of the re- arrested detainees were armed.
Amnesty International are no reports of soldiers like the one visible on the video has received a video showing a soldier dragging an unarmed young man along Jiddari Polo junction in Maiduguri, before shooting him at close range. The corpse was left next to a pile of dead bodies in the middle of the road. The video appears to show that the man posed no threat and was shot in cold blood. This amounts to an extrajudicial execution, a crime under international law. There suspected of committing such crimes, being arrested, detained or prosecuted.
Former detainees shortly after they were re-arrested by the “civilian JTF” and executed by the security forces in Jiddari Polo area in Maiduguri on 14 March 2014.
An analysis of the video’s content shows that it is consistent with eyewitness accounts of the killings and incidents that took place following Boko Haram’s attack on the barracks.
On Friday 14 March 2014, the Defence Headquarters in Abuja released a statement stating that the Nigerian army had “successfully repelled” the attack on Giwa barracks “with heavy human casualty on the terrorists.” The statement claimed that some of the detainees were killed by the attackers. Evidence documented by Amnesty International however suggests that the overwhelming majority of detainees who died were killed by the JTF.
Another eyewitness described to Amnesty International how soldiers at a checkpoint on Ali Garawi Road in Maiduguri executed more than 190 people brought to them in batches by members of the “civilian JTF”. He said many of the people killed were former detainees who were unable to escape and looked too frail to run: “The civilian JTF brought the people to the soldiers, many were barefooted. Some did not even have clothes on and they looked hungry. I saw the soldiers asking the people to lie on the ground. There was a small argument between the soldiers and the civilian JTF. The soldiers made some calls and a few minutes later they started shooting the people on the ground. I counted 198 people killed at that checkpoint on Friday.”
Amnesty International has spoken to residents, lawyers, human rights defenders and hospital staff in various locations within and around Maiduguri including Mairi, Jiddari Polo, as well as 202 Housing Estate, who gave consistent accounts of the killings that took place after the attack on Giwa military barracks.
The timeline below shows the number of deaths reported on Friday 14 March 2014 by witnesses in Maiduguri:
• Around 8:30am to 9:30am, 56 people were killed by soldiers behind the University of Maiduguri.
• Between 10:00am and 3:00pm, up to 148 people were killed in Mairi area. They were executed in batches at “no man’s land”.
• At approximately 11:00am, between 100 and 198 people were killed by soldiers at a checkpoint on Ali Garawi Road and Bulamari in Jiddari area, Maiduguri.
• Between 12:00pm and 4:30pm, 120 dead bodies were deposited at the State Specialist Hospital mortuary by soldiers and members of the “civilian JTF”. Staff at the hospital told Amnesty International the bodies were brought from different areas in Maiduguri.
• One human rights defender recounted that she counted 15 people reportedly killed and left at the entrance of Giwa barracks, around 9:00am and the dead bodies left on display.
• Over 30 former detainees were killed in London Chiki area, a community activist said.
• In Kaleri, an eye witness in the community told Amnesty International that up to 75 people were brought to the army by members of the “civilian JTF” before they were assembled and shot dead by soldiers in the army base nearby. 35 were shot around 1 pm; an hour later 40 were killed.
• Up to 78 people, all believed to be former detainees, were reportedly killed in the morning in different locations such as Madaganari, and Abujan Kalankawa.
According to reports received from eyewitnesses, tamily members,Iawyers and community activists,at least 622 people were kiIIed by the security forces on 14 March. The actual number could even be higher.
FORMER DETAINEES BURIED IN MASS GRAVES
After the killings on Friday 14 March, many dead bodies were left lying on the streets and other areas for several hours and in some cases until Saturday 15 March 2014 before they were eventually collected by staff of the Borno State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA) and loaded into trucks for burial.
“On Saturday 15 March, I and many other watched while the soldiers and BOSEPA staff buried more than 100 people in two big holes in Kaleri. The burial took about three hours, from around 3pm to 6pm in the evening. About 30 people were involved in the burial,” said Mohammed Bukar2, a resident of Kaleri in an interview with Amnesty International.
Others also told Amnesty International that dead bodies were buried in a mass grave in Dunomari, a community in the outskirt of Maiduguri. In his interview with Amnesty International, Mohammed Bukar explained how the graves were prepared: “Around 12:30 pm on Saturday afternoon, a caterpillar bulldozer came to the area near the army checkpoint in Dunomari, behind the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital. They spent over two hours digging two big holes. After they finished digging, they started dumping the bodies that had been lying on the ground nearby. And then between 2:30 to 3:00 pm, they started bringing the dead bodies in vehicles. I counted seven BOSEPA vehicles all loaded with bodies. The bodies were then buried in the two big holes and covered. Lots of people witnessed the burial, including young children. It was a pathetic sight. The soldiers did not allow us to take photos or video.”
Information about possible mass graves in Dunomari were corroborated with satellite image analysis commissioned by Amnesty International from DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Centre. Satellite images of 20 March 2014 showed three possible mass graves, approximately 30 to 50 meters from the main road and 315 meters from the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital campus. Two graves have linear shapes which are commonly observed in ground photos and satellite imagery of mass graves. The sizes are approximately 12×2 meters and 8×2 meters respectively. Another possible grave was observed 47 meters from the first two but in a circular shape with a diameter of 6 meters. Though the disturbances in the soil could be related to construction in the area, the most recent imagery does not exhibit any further construction on those sites.
Despite the existence of Nigerian laws and international standards requiring investigations of any use of firearms resulting in deaths and prosecution of suspected perpetrators where deaths have been unlawful, such investigations are rarely carried out and relatives are hardly ever officially informed about the death of their family members.
Hospital staff told Amnesty International that some family members went to the State Specialist hospital mortuary to find out if their relatives were among the Giwa barracks detainees killed, but were turned away by the soldiers at the hospital.
The execution of former detainees by the security services amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Federal Government must immediately exhume the bodies for an independent autopsy examination to be carried out as a matter of urgency.
International standards require “thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances”.3 The death of anyone in custody – or otherwise at the hands of security forces – merits an inquiry whose goal should be to identify the body and determine the cause and circumstances of death. It should include an adequate autopsy. Dependants or relatives of persons killed, or their legal representatives, are also entitled to an independent process, including judicial process, and publication of a report of the investigation.
Top: Approximately 40 square kilometres were analysed in search of large soil disturbances occurring between March 12 and March 20, 2014. The reported location of mass graves was in an open area behind the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) close to a military checkpoint. Possible mass graves were observed around the London Chiki neighbourhood approximately 315 meters from the UMTH campus near a checkpoint.
Top: Satellite images from 12 and 20 March 2014. A probable checkpoint is observed behind the UMTH. New areas of disturbed earth can be seen between March 12 and March 20, 2014. Measurements of the possible grave sites are: A) 12×2 meters, B) 8×2 meters, C) Diameter is 6 meters.