Nearly 150 people, including 11 children under the age of six, have died in military detention in Nigeria’s northeast this year, according to a new report from Amnesty International.
Amnesty said the children, including four babies, were among 149 reported deaths of prisoners held at Giwa barracks, a notorious detention facility in the city of Maiduguri that rights groups have criticized in the past.
The barracks is used to imprison suspected members of Boko Haram, whose nearly eight-year insurgency has killed an estimated 20,000 people in the northeast.
“The detention facilities in Giwa barracks must be immediately closed and all detainees released or transferred to civilian authorities,” Netsanet Belay, Amnesty’s research and advocacy director for Africa, said in a statement. “The government must urgently introduce systems to ensure the safety and well-being of children released from detention.”
Nigeria disputes findings
Nigeria’s military disputes Amnesty’s findings. Military spokesman Rabe Abubakar said they had given Amnesty employees access to Giwa barracks and other facilities in the northeast last year and made changes the group had suggested.
“We improved our facilities. We improved feeding. We improved our welfare for these detainees,” Abubakar said. “We cannot in any way accept this kind of report and we will reject it in totality.”
He declined to say if the military had recorded any deaths of prisoners at its facilities in the northeast this year.
Mass arrests, detentions without trials
Amnesty’s report, released Wednesday, said Giwa currently houses about 1,200 people, most of whom were rounded up in mass arrests and are being held without trial. One hundred and twenty of the detainees are children.
Boko Haram has in the past accused the military of detaining relatives of suspected militants, citing that as a justification for its mass kidnapping of women and girls.
Prisoners in the facility have died from starvation, disease and the after-effects of gunshot wounds, the report said. It said diarrhea and measles are rife in the cells.
Last year, Amnesty International reported that the Nigerian military rounded up and killed thousands of prisoners at detention facilities in the northeast, including Giwa barracks.
President Muhammadu Buhari said he would investigate that report’s findings. The results of that investigation have yet to be released.