his inaugural address last Friday, Nigeria’s newly elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, promised to “overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations.” While this very public acknowledgement of a problem repeatedly downplayed by the previous administration is welcome, the seriousness of Nigeria’s human rights violations cannot be overstated. Indeed, even as the new president was making this commitment, he was watched from the audience by a number of high-ranking military officials who, along with others, Amnesty International is today calling to be investigated for their role in the mass deaths of more than 8,000 people — shot, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death.
It is no secret that as the bloody insurgency waged by Boko Haram since 2009 intensified, so too did the brutality of the Nigerian military’s response. Since the start of the conflict, Amnesty International has been documenting and highlighting human rights abuses perpetrated by both sides. But the report released today, “Stars on their Shoulders, Blood on their Hands,” goes further than ever before. Not only does it reveal incontrovertible evidence of the horrifying scale and depravity of war crimes committed by the military, it also shows that military commanders either sanctioned the abuses or ignored the fact that they were taking place.
This report is based on years of research and analysis — including hundreds of leaked military reports and correspondence and interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses, and senior members of the Nigerian security forces. We have found that more than 7,000 young men and boys died in military detention since March 2011. In addition, more than 1,200 people were rounded up and unlawfully killed by the military since February 2012. And Amnesty International’s evidence suggests that the vast majority of those arrested, detained, or killed were not members of Boko Haram.