Zeid calls for justice for rights abuses in Nigeria

Zeid bin Ra'ad, Photo: UNHCR

Zeid bin Ra’ad, Photo: UNHCR

GENEVA, Switzerland, June 5, 2015 – United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday said interviews with individuals who had fled or were rescued from towns previously held by Boko Haram painted a picture of “absolute terror and grave human rights violations” by the insurgents in northeast Nigeria, and also yielded reports of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law by Nigerian armed forces.

The High Commissioner urged the new administration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to take urgent measures to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, whether non-State or State actors. He also called on the authorities to ensure that counter-insurgency operations do not result in furthering the human rights devastation in the northeast of the country.

“Civilians in northeast Nigeria have been living through horrifying acts of cruelty and violence by Boko Haram. These include wanton killings, summary executions, forced participation in military operations – including the use of children to detonate bombs, forced labour, forced marriage and sexual violence, including rape,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

Eye witnesses described how, in an attack in April on Kwajafa village in Borno State, insurgents asked villagers to gather and hear them preach. When the villagers gathered, the insurgents opened fire. The United Nations Human Rights Office has also received a video recording an execution, allegedly of a girl who refused to convert to Islam.

“We have reports of children who were suspected of theft and had their hands amputated, of a man stoned to death on accusations of fornication, mass executions of captives whose hands and legs were bound and who were dumped into rivers and wells. In one incident reported to have taken place in late 2014, Boko Haram allegedly assembled and brutally killed at least 1,000, possibly many more, male inhabitants of Mararaba Madagali in Adamawa State. These were men and boys who refused to join Boko Haram’s depraved cause.”

The High Commissioner said extremely worrying reports had also emerged about the actions of Nigerian armed forces. One victim recounted his ordeal when he was mistaken for a Boko Haram member and detained by the military in Yola in Adamawa State. The man said he spent five days without food or water, as detainees drank the urine of others to quench their thirst. He claimed that there was an average of five deaths per day in the facility.

“My predecessor, Navi Pillay, during her visit to Nigeria last year said that many of the people she met openly acknowledged that human rights violations had been committed by the security forces, and that these have served to alienate local communities and created fertile ground for Boko Haram to cultivate new recruits,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“Since then we have continued to receive reports of arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and summary executions, as well as of a failure to take adequate measures to ensure the protection of civilians during counter-insurgency operations. Reports issued by international NGOs, as well as the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria indicate that the scale of the violations may be massive.”

High Commissioner Zeid acknowledged the tremendous challenges faced by the Government of Nigeria in its efforts to combat Boko Haram, but he stressed the importance of ensuring that security forces uphold the rule of law, in accordance with their human rights obligations.

“I am encouraged by President Buhari’s promise that this new administration will leave no stone unturned to promote the rule of law and ensure justice and the protection of human rights while countering terrorism,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “I urge him to act without delay to establish proper independent inquiries into alleged violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law by the Nigerian armed forces and related militia, and in particular into the deeply disturbing allegations that thousands of people have died or been killed while held in detention by State institutions.”

“We understand that there have been a number of investigations by the authorities and we call on them to publicize the findings. Investigations into human rights violations must be conducted in a transparent manner, in order to inspire confidence and deter further violations,” the High Commissioner said.

“This is crucial to ensure that victims of Boko Haram’s crimes are not doubly victimized by their own Government.”

The High Commissioner stressed that the United Nations Human Rights Office stood ready to advise the Government on ensuring its counter-terrorism operations are in line with international law. The Office is currently advising the military authorities on a review of the rules of engagement and the code of conduct for counter-terrorism and military operations in the northeast.

High Commissioner Zeid also called on the authorities to ensure that those who have been rescued from towns previously held by Boko Haram have access to psychosocial help and assistance in reintegrating into their communities.