Amnesty International [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged [press release] the Nigerian government to investigate the deaths of hundreds of people detained by the country's military Joint Task Force (JTF). Evidence gathered by AI reveals that more than 950 people have died in military custody this year, with most deaths occurring in facilities used to detain suspected members of the armed Islamic group Boko Haram. AI's deputy Africa director Lucy Freeman urged the Nigerian government to take action, stating "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." Former detainees interviewed by AI provided accounts of detainees extrajudicially executed, shot and left without medical care, and bodies carried away for burial without post-mortem examinations. According to AI, "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."
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin," has been fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state and has warned Christians in the mostly Muslim northern regions to leave the area. In May Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan [JURIST news archive] declared a state of emergency to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram. The group has publicly claimed responsibility for several attacks, including church bombings [AFP report] on December 25 that killed approximately 40 people in 2011. In January 2012 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged Nigerian leaders from all sectors of society to make a concerted effort to stop the sectarian violence [JURIST report]. The Christmas day bombings were internationally condemned, including being labeled as "senseless violence" by the White House and acts of "blind hatred" by the Vatican [AFP reports]. Additionally, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] has previously expressed concern [JURIST report] over acts of ethnic violence by Boko Haram. Specifically, the Office described the group's bombing of a UN building in Nigeria [VOA report] in August 2011 as "cowardly." At least 18 people were killed in the attack.