A human rights group is urging a court in Nigeria to prosecute those involved in the deaths of over 130 people during sectarian violence last year in Jos, Nigeria.
The court is investigating an incident last year in which a group of soldiers and security police allegedly killed 133 people, almost all of them Muslims.
“There were devastating losses on all sides, loss of life, of churches and mosques that were burned and destroyed of religious leaders, of Christian pastors and church leaders who were killed during the violence," Eric Guttschuss, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told the panel.
Human Rights Watch conducted a government sanctioned on-site investigation after the killings took place 28-29 November 2008. The victims were randomly gunned down following emergency shoot-on-sight orders from Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang.
The killings took place during riots between Muslim and Christian mobs that broke out during local elections. The clashes followed rumors that a Muslim candidate had lost a local election. In all, hundreds died.
Human Rights Watch issued a report Monday that coincided with Guttschuss’ testimony. It concluded that policemen and soldiers brought in to stop the violence gunned down unarmed citizens in their homes, lined up victims on the streets for summary executions and hunted down unarmed men trying to flee to safety.
Guttschuss said that although 131 of the 133 civilians killed were Muslims, the judicial panel seemed eager to portray the Human Rights Watch findings as biased toward Muslims.
“This is not the case, and we’ve made it very clear our testimony is focused on the narrow issue of the killings by security forces,” he said.
Jos has seen a series of religious and election-related clashes that date back to 2001, when more than 1000 civilians died in mob violence.
Guttschuss explained there is a lot at stake in local elections because it determines which ethnic group gets access to jobs and university education.
The geographic location of Jos, which lies in Nigeria’s “middle belt” between a northern Muslim stronghold and the majority Christian south, has made it a flashpoint for periodic ethnic strife.
Guttschuss said political and religious affiliations play a complicated and often unpredictable part in the Plateau State violence. He said in the past authorities have been reluctant to assess responsibility and take meaningful action.
“This is not the first time a judicial commission of inquiry has been established in Jos. Following the 2001 elections, a judicial commission of inquiry was established. Unfortunately, the report was never made public and the findings of the report were never implemented by the government. We have called on this commission to ensure that their findings are made public. We also have called on them to investigate allegations that security forces were involved in the killings,” he said.