Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued a report saying that it has evidence of extrajudicial killings and atrocities carried out by troops fighting extremist Boko Haram insurgents in the northeastern part of the country.
The report, which the NHRC described as interim, was released on Sunday. It focused on the incident known as the Baga massacre.
Digital Journal reported that the Baga massacre occurred after Boko Haram insurgents shot and killed a Nigerian soldier. In the reprisal that followed, Nigerian troops attacked the small fishing community of Baga, shooting at civilians and setting private buildings on fire. Residents said that about 185 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 2,000 homes razed.
The NHCR noted that although its interim report has not concluded on details of casualty figures and military units responsible for the attack, it was more concerned about the "proportionality of the use of force as well as humanitarian and human rights compliance in internal security operations."
The Nigerian Premium Times reports that the commission said: "Most of the allegations against the JTF (the military Joint Task Force) clearly appear to raise questions of proportionality of the use of force and standards applicable to the conduct of the armed forces in internal security operations."
The commission quoted a police report that said soldiers "started shooting indiscriminately at anybody in sight including domestic animals. This reaction resulted to loss of lives and massive destruction of properties."
According to the Premium Times, the report noted that both Boko Haram fighters and members of the military Joint Task Force (JTF) were involved in killings, executions, tortures and detention. The report accused the JTF of indiscriminate disposal of corpses in the attempt to hide evidence of killings.
The commission said it received "credibly attested allegations of gross violations by officials of the JTF (joint task force of police and military), including allegations of summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention amounting to internment and outrages against the dignity of civilians, as well as rape.. In particular, we have received persistent and credibly attested allegations of indiscriminate disposal of dead human remains by personnel of both the JTF and the Borno State Environmental Protection Agency."
The report added: "The allegations about detention practice are extensive. Detainees are allegedly held in un-gazetted places of detention, with no or inadequate documentation and outside the safeguards provided for under applicable laws, including the Constitution of Nigeria and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. They are not allowed access to family, counsel or medical personnel."
The commission said that it considered it "tragic" that "details of the Baga incident have been drowned out by competing claims about the casualty count with a focus on the numbers reported killed rather than on whether the nature of force that resulted in their killing was proportionate or disproportionate taking account of all circumstances of the case, and, therefore, whether the force was ultimately lawful or unlawful."
The report continued: "Through this controversy, the impression has been created that certain thresholds of numbers of killing may be permissible so long as they are made to appear low enough. Government has not done enough to discourage the impression. The commission considers this tragic."
The 40-page report comes a few days after the Senate concluded that the military was not at fault in the Baga incident. The Senate report released Wednesday agreed with previous claims by the military and security agencies that the casualty figures reported by locals and the international media were exaggerated.
According to Digital Journal, the international human rights organization Human Right Watch, however, released satellite images that appeared to confirm the claim that more than 2,000 homes were destroyed in the military action.
The military denied the figures, saying that only 37 people died and that only one of them was a civilian.
Apart from pointing out that the focus of the discussion should have been on "the nature of force that resulted in...killing(s)...[whether]... it was proportionate or disproportionate," the commission also pointed out that the refugee crisis that followed the military offensive after the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency, was exacerbated by fears arising from previous atrocities committed by Nigerian forces. The commission pointed out that most of the displaced civilians were unwilling to use the camp that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) set up because they distrusted the national security agencies and the JTF.
The report said: "Many of them are not encamped, some of them fear that registering with the camps maintained by the NEMA could expose them to the attentions of the security agencies or of JTF. They are also reported to be in fear for safety of camps from possible JALISWAJ (Boko Haram) attacks. We have been unable to verify these fears but call attention to the fact that they exist.”
The report noted that the insecurity has worsened conditions in a part of the country already suffering widespread poverty with "the worst statistics of human development in Nigeria generally."
The report said: "Compounding these issues, the farming communities of Borno State in particular have lost the 2013 planting season, mostly attributable to fear of JALISWAJ. The consequences of this are far reaching. The immediate result is the likelihood of a food security and nutritional crises in Borno and surrounding States that are dependent on the agricultural output from its Lake Chad Basin."
The commission said it would issue its final reports when its investigators are able to visit the areas where military authorities have cut mobile phone and internet connections.