The report says attention should be on the scale of force in Baga than the casualties.
Nigeria’s human rights body has rebuked the scale of military force used on the coastal town of Baga, Borno state, where between 30 and 200 people were killed in fighting between soldiers and Boko Haram militants in April. The report also criticizes the government for focusing more on the number of casualties than the legality and the scale of the force.
The National Human Rights Commission said in an interim report on what is now known as the Baga massacre, released Sunday, that while it was yet to announce its impression of the the numbers killed in the attack, and those responsible, the incident illustrates “serious concerns” about “proportionality of the use of force as well as humanitarian and human rights compliance in internal security operations.”
“Most of the allegations against the JTF(military’s Joint Task Force) clearly appear to raise questions of proportionality of the use of force and standards applicable to the conduct of the armed forces in internal security operations.”
The commission said it was “tragic” for the federal government to give more attention to the debate on the number of those killed than the legality of the killings, as though there exists a threshold for accepting extrajudicial killings.
“The details of Baga incident have been drowned out by competing claims about the casualty count with a focus on the numbers reported killed rather than on whether the nature of force that resulted in the their killing was proportionate or disproportionate taking account of all circumstances of the case, and, therefore, whether the force was ultimately lawful or unlawful,” the report said.
“Through this controversy, the impression has been created that certain thresholds of numbers of killing may be permissible so long as they are made to appear low enough. Government has not done enough to discourage the impression. The commission considers this tragic.”
The 40-page report comes only days after the Senate absolved the military of blame over the incident which drew widespread condemnation and placed Nigeria’s human rights record on the global spotlight.
The early April attack reportedly occurred after insurgents shot and killed a soldier at a local bar drawing a forceful response from a military unit based in the area.
Residents of the small town on the Lake Chad coastline said between 185 and 200 people were killed, while between 2,000and 4,000 homes were destroyed in the crossfire. Those figures were supported by the Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, and the senator representing the district, Maina Lawan.
International rights organization, Human Rights Watch, also claimed satellite images showed that 2,275 homes destroyed.
The military denounced the figures as “grossly exaggerated” saying only 37 people died amongst them, one civilian.
The senate report, released on Wednesday, supported those claims. The committees on defence and army, internal security and police, which investigated the case, said they found only nine new graves and 115 burnt homes.
The Nigerian Human Rights Commission said while the casualty count is important to its investigation, its focus is on the lawfulness of the force applied and responsibility for it, taking account of all the circumstances of the case.
It said in those concerns must be addressed by the federal government, security forces and institutions of accountability in the search for durable solutions to the crisis in the northeast region.
Illegal Detentions, torture and summary executions
The report said while there were credible allegations that Boko Haram fighters are involved in killings, rape, forced abduction, and forced marriage of women and attacks on schools, teachers, churches and other places of worship, the military’s Joint Task Force, was also accused of extrajudicial executions, torture, indeterminate detention, indiscriminate disposal of remains of killed insurgents.
“The allegations about detention practice are extensive. Detainees are allegedly held in un-gazetted places of detention, with no or inadequate documentation and outside the safeguards provided for under applicable laws, including the Constitution of Nigeria and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. They are not allowed access to family, counsel or medical personnel,” the commission said.
The commission also identifies the forced displacement of entire community as a consequence of the security situation and the deployment of troops to the north-east.
It said most of those displaced from their home have refused to use the camp provided by National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for fear that they may be easy targets by security forces and the insurgents.
“Many of them are not encamped, some of them fear that registering with the camps maintained by the NEMA could expose them to the attentions of the security agencies or of JTF. They are also reported to be in fear for safety of camps from possible JALISWAJ(Boko Haram) attacks. We have been unable to verify these fears but call attention to the fact that they exist.”
Worsening human development statistics
The report says the security situation in the region has worsened the already dire human development statistics in the region as indices like maternal mortality and poverty have escalated.
“Compounding these issues, the farming communities of Borno State in particular have lost the 2013 planting season, mostly attributable to fear of JALISWAJ. The consequences of this are far reaching. The immediate result is the likelihood of a food security and nutritional crises in Borno and surrounding States that are dependent on the agricultural output from its Lake Chad Basin.”