Human rights group Amnesty International is calling for trials following revelations that Nigeria’s Kaduna state government secretly buried the bodies of nearly 350 slain Shi'ite Muslims in a mass grave.
Kaduna state officials told a panel of inquiry Monday that the bodies were buried in the bush after clashes between army troops and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in the town of Zaria in December.
“The horrific revelation by the Kaduna state government that hundreds of Shi'ites were gunned down and dumped in mass graves is an important first step to bringing all those suspected of criminal responsibility for this atrocity to trial,” M.K. Ibrahim, the director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said in a statement Tuesday.
“It is now imperative that the mass grave sites are protected in order that a full independent forensic investigation can begin,” Ibrahim said.
Kaduna officials said army raids on the Shi'ite group were ordered after the IMN allegedly attempted to kill Nigeria’s army chief. The IMN has denied the accusation.
Muhammad Namadi Musa, director-general of the Kaduna State Religious Affairs office, said Monday that he was ordered to travel to Zaria with the Kaduna state police commissioner to “find out the number of corpses and how they would be buried.”
“Most corpses were covered with black materials and they included women and children,” Musa said at the hearing.
Musa said 156 bodies were counted at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, while 191 were collected from the army base in Zaria.
The Nigerian army, which has been accused of human rights abuses against civilians in the insurgency by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, denies wrongdoing.
Chief of Army Staff General Tukur Yusuf Buratai said in January that soldiers “acted in accordance to the rule of engagement” and their orders.
Human Rights Watch said “at least 300” people were killed in the Zaria clashes, although no official death toll has been released.
One medic at the Ahmadu Hospital told the French news agency that he counted at least 400 bodies in the morgue on December 12. Local residents said just as many bodies were scattered on the streets.