Amnesty International slams Nigeria over abuses in Boko Haram fight

The organization called for the Nigerian government to promptly investigate five officers for war crimes.

Olamikan Gbemiga/AP/File
In this Monday, May. 26, 2014 file photo, Nigeria's chief of defense staff Air Marshal Alex S. Badeh, foreground third right, and other military chiefs wait to address the Nigerians Against Terrorism group during a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school Chibok, in Abuja, Nigeria.

Nigerian military abuses have caused the deaths of some 8,000 civilians in the fight against Boko Haram extremists, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday.

The London-based human rights group named senior officers it wanted tried for alleged war crimes and called on Nigeria's newly-elected government, led by former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, to look into the abuses.

"The Nigerian military, including senior military commanders, must be investigated for participating in, sanctioning or failing to prevent the deaths of more than 8,000 people murdered, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death," the report said.

If correct, those figures would exponentially increase the estimated toll from the nearly 6-year-old Islamic uprising, put at about 13,000 dead. There was no immediate response from the military.

Boko Haram has been fighting to impose Islamic Law across Nigeria's north for the last six years, massacring civilians and kidnapping thousands of women and children, but Amnesty alleges that the military also has committed atrocities.

The soldiers have detained more than 20,000 people — some boys as young as 9 and often on scant evidence — and then held them in brutal conditions that resulted in many deaths, alleged the report.

"Former detainees and senior military sources described how detainees were regularly tortured to death — hung on poles over fires, tossed into deep pits or interrogated using electric batons," said the report, entitled "Stars on their Shoulders, Blood on their Hands."

The organization called for the Nigerian government to promptly investigate five officers for war crimes: Maj. Gen. John A.H. Ewansiha, Maj. Gen. Obida T. Ethnan, Maj. Gen. Ahmadu Mohammed, Brig. Gen. Austin O. Edokpayi and Brig. Gen. Rufus O. Bamigboye.

It also said the chiefs of defense and army staff, and their two predecessors, should be investigated for potential command responsibility.

Amnesty said it interviewed 412 people over several years for the report, including victims, relatives, witnesses and activists as well as military officials.

Nigeria's military had promised in the past to investigate Amnesty's allegations, but little has happened. In his inaugural address Friday, Buhari promised to investigate abuses.

Reports of such widespread abuses have strained relations between the United States and Nigeria. US laws prohibit sales of certain weapons to the countries of military forces accused of gross human rights violations.

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