Nigerian forces killed hundreds of unarmed in Giwa Barracks incident: Amnesty

With intensified struggle between Boko Haram and Nigerian military, should a conversation begin about African multinational force intervention?

Local residents move around the streets as smoke rises from the nearby Giwa Military barracks following an attack by suspected Islamist militant in Maiduguri, Nigeria, March, 14. 2014, after the militants struck the northern city, attacking the main military barracks with gunfire and explosions.

A version of this post appeared on Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

Amnesty International, the London-based non-governmental human rights organization, has issued a report, “Nigeria: More than 1,500 Killed in North-Eastern Nigeria in Early 2014.”

Of particular interest is its dissection of what happened on March 14 at Giwa Barracks, the largest military facility in Maiduguri, Borno State.

The report finds that Boko Haram staged a successful break into the detention center and that it released all of those being held. Boko Haram gave those freed the option of joining them or going home. Most chose the home option. Boko Haram then withdrew.

Shortly thereafter the security forces reoccupied the facility.

With the help of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a locally based vigilante group, the security forces then hunted down all of those who had escaped and murdered most of them. Amnesty estimates that over 600 people were killed.

Amnesty’s report, which is based on eye-witness accounts, also notes that many of the inmates were emaciated and without shoes. Many also had scars indicating abuse. All of the inmates were unarmed.

Earlier, I blogged that, according to the media, a senator from Maiduguri stated that 95 percent of those killed in the Giwa Barracks incident were “innocent,” that they were not part of Boko Haram.

He also seemed to imply that the security services took advantage the of jail break to murder practically all of the remaining inmates. Amnesty’s report seems to support this argument.

As Amnesty observes, the actions of the security forces are consistent with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, the Amnesty report is balanced. It also profiles the rampant human rights violations by Boko Haram.

From the perspective of the security forces, it is difficult to tell who is Boko Haram and who is not. Further, the security services appear to be poorly trained and likely are undisciplined and frightened. Nevertheless, government agencies are held to a higher standard than insurgencies.

The question now is: should a conversation begin about possible outsider intervention by an African multinational force into northeast Nigeria?

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