Nigeria: Deaths in custody of hundreds of Boko Haram suspects must be investigated

The deaths of hundreds of people in detention facilities run by Nigeria’s military Joint Task Force (JTF) must be investigated as a matter of urgency, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty has received credible information from a senior officer in the Nigerian army that over 950 people died in military custody in the first six months of this year alone.

Most of the reported deaths occurred in facilities used by the military to detain people suspected of being members of, or associated with, the armed Islamist group Boko Haram.

Lucy Freeman, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Africa, said:

“The evidence we’ve gathered suggests that hundreds of people died in military custody in 2013 alone. This is a staggeringly high figure that requires urgent action by the Nigerian government.

“The details of what happens behind locked doors in these shadowy detention facilities must be exposed, and those responsible for any human rights violations brought to book.”

A large proportion of these deaths are reported to have happened in Giwa military barracks, in Maiduguri, Borno State; in Sector Alpha, commonly referred to as ‘Guantanamo’; and in Presidential Lodge (known as ‘Guardroom’) in Damaturu, Yobe State.

According to former detainees interviewed by Amnesty, people died on an almost daily basis in both Giwa and Sector Alpha from starvation, suffocation or other injuries associated with overcrowding. Some suffered serious injuries from severe beating and eventually died due to lack of medical attention and treatment.

The interviews also revealed that in some cases detainees may have been extra judicially executed. Some described soldiers taking prisoners from their cells threatening to shoot and kill them. In many cases the detainees never returned. Others were reportedly shot in the leg during interrogation, were not provided with medical care and were left to bleed to death.

Another senior officer in the Nigerian army who spoke on condition of anonymity told Amnesty:

“Hundreds have been killed in detention either by shooting them or by suffocation…There are times when people are brought out on a daily basis and killed. About five people, on average, are killed nearly on a daily basis.”

In April 2013 Amnesty International delegates counted 20 emaciated corpses lying on the ground in the compound of the State Specialist Hospital mortuary in Maiduguri. Eye witnesses said that the bodies had been deposited by the JTF.

Several other sources told Amnesty that the same mortuary received a daily delivery of bodies by the JTF. They reportedly remain there until the mortuary is full and are then taken away for burial by Borno State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA). Information received by Amnesty indicates that post-mortem examinations are not carried out at the mortuary or elsewhere.

Lucy Freeman added:

“International standards, as well as Nigerian laws, require that deaths in custody must be investigated thoroughly and impartially.

“Detainees have human rights and these must be respected in all instances.”

In many parts of northern Nigeria hundreds of people accused of having links to Boko Haram have been arbitrarily detained by the JTF. Many have been detained. incommunicado for lengthy periods without charge or trial, without being brought before any judicial authority, and without access to lawyers and families.