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Amnesty: Nigerian Army Killed Thousands in Boko Haram Fight

File - Nigerian soldiers ride on the back of an armed truck as they patrol at a local market Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, after recent violence in surrounding areas at Maiduguri, Nigeria. Islamic extremists are rampaging through villages in northeast Nigeria’s

Amnesty International says Nigeria’s military has killed thousands of people during its fight against the Boko Haram extremist group.

Human rights group Amnesty International says Nigerian soldiers and militiamen have murdered, tortured and abused thousands of detainees since March 2011.

An Amnesty report released Wednesday says detainees have been rounded up in mass sweeps in towns and cities in the country’s northeast, taken to makeshift prisons, where some died of thirst, hunger and suffocation or were poisoned by chemicals sprayed into their cells.

The report says suspects have been hung on poles over fires or hit with electric batons during interrogations. It says others have been murdered, sometimes by the hundreds.

Map of Nigeria showing the location of Bama and Maidiguri, in Borno State
Map of Nigeria showing the location of Bama and Maidiguri, in Borno State

The Amnesty report says at least 1,200 people were extrajudicially executed, and at least 7,000 died in military custody during the period they studied.

Solomon Sacco, a senior legal adviser for Amnesty, said, “We have evidence from witnesses that they get so thirsty that they have to drink each others’ urine just to stay alive and even the urine runs out. We have received testimony of prisoners being shackled and hung from the ceiling while tortured by the military.”

A spokesman for Nigeria’s military did not answer calls for comment.
Several human rights groups have said previously that Nigeria’s military and the vigilante groups who fight alongside them have committed rights abuses in the northeast.

The region has seen heavy fighting in recent years as the Boko Haram insurgent group battles for control of towns and villages. The Islamist group wants to implement strict sharia law in the region.

What is new about this report is that it names nine commanders responsible for the alleged brutality, including the current chiefs of army, defense staff and their predecessors. Those positions are among the highest ranking in Nigeria’s armed forces. The report says these men should be investigated.

Nigeria has been fighting Boko Haram since 2009, and despite recent advances has yet to fully neutralize the group. Sacco said its becoming clear the military’s excesses are undermining its fight.

“Evidence demonstrates that you cannot fight the atrocities and war crimes of Boko Haram by committing atrocities and war crimes of your own,” he said.

Other countries, including the United States, have provided training and equipment to Nigeria’s military. Sacco said Amnesty has uncovered no evidence that any soldiers trained by Nigeria’s partners were involved in the abuses documented in the report.