Nigerian security forces as well as Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram may both be guilty of crimes against humanity over violence that has killed nearly 3,000 people, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
In a 98-page report laying out alleged abuses by Nigerian security forces and killings committed by the Islamists, the New York-based rights group describes extra-judicial killings, torture and brutal attacks.
“According to witnesses, (a security task force) has engaged in excessive use of force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion, burning of houses, stealing money during raids, and extrajudicial killings of suspects,” the report says.
“These killings, and clashes with the group, have raised the death toll of those killed by Boko Haram or security forces to more than 2,800 people since 2009.”
It said Boko Haram is believed to have killed at least 1,500 people since July 2009.
The report adds later that “Human Rights Watch’s research suggests that crimes against humanity may have been committed both by state agents and members of Boko Haram.”
A violent insurgency by Boko Haram has rocked northern and central Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, and security forces have often been accused of responding brutally.
Earlier this week, residents claimed as many as 30 people were killed during a rampage by soldiers after a bomb attack in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Boko Haram’s stronghold. The military denied the accusations.
The report calls for investigations and prosecutions of soldiers or police officers responsible for abuses, something Human Rights Watch says Nigeria has largely failed to do.
It also criticises Nigeria over its handling of arrests of suspected extremists, saying that in Maiduguri and the city of Kano, “the authorities no longer even bring formal charges against Boko Haram suspects.”
“Nigeria has kept Boko Haram suspects in detention often incommunicado without charge or trial for months or even years and has failed to register arrests or inform relatives about the whereabouts of detainees,” it says.
At the same time, Boko Haram has carried out brutal attacks, including suicide bombings and assassinations. The report describes episodes from 2009 of Christian men being killed for refusing to convert to Islam.
“The unlawful killing by both Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces only grows worse; both sides need to halt this downward spiral,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Nigeria’s government should swiftly bring to justice the Boko Haram members and security agents who have committed these serious crimes.”
Boko Haram has claimed to be fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Nigeria, though its demands have repeatedly shifted. Nigeria’s 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.