Stars on their Shoulders. Blood on their Hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military

June 3, 2015

Stars on their Shoulders. Blood on their Hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military

Based on years of research and analysis of evidence - including leaked military reports and correspondence, as well as interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses and senior members of the Nigerian security forces - the organization outlines a range of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military in the course of the fight against Boko Haram in the north-east of the country.

The report, Stars on their Shoulders. Blood on their Hands: War crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military, reveals that since March 2011, more than 7,000 young men and boys died in military detention and more than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed since February 2012.

Amnesty International provides compelling evidence of the need for an investigation into the individual and command responsibilities of soldiers, and mid-level and senior-level military commanders. The report outlines the roles and possible criminal responsibilities of those along the chain of command - up to the Chief of Defense Staff and Chief of Army Staff - and names nine senior Nigerian military figures who should be investigated for command and individual responsibility for the crimes committed.

Mass deaths in custody

In their response to Boko Haram’s attacks in the north-east, the Nigerian military have arrested at least 20,000 young men and boys since 2009, some as young as nine years old. In most cases they were arbitrarily arrested, often based solely on the word of a single unidentified secret informant. Most were arrested in mass “screening” operations or “cordon-and-search” raids where security forces round up hundreds of men. Almost none of those detained have been brought to court and all have been held without the necessary safeguards against murder, torture and ill-treatment.

Detainees are held incommunicado in extremely overcrowded, unventilated cells without sanitary facilities and with little food or water. Many are subjected to torture and thousands have died from ill-treatment and as a result of dire detention conditions. One former detainee told Amnesty International: “All I know was that once you get detained by the soldiers and taken to Giwa [military barracks], your life is finished.”

A high-ranking military officer gave Amnesty International a list of 683 detainees who died in custody between October 2012 and February 2013. The organization also obtained evidence that in 2013, more than 4,700 bodies were brought to a mortuary from a detention facility in Giwa barracks. In June 2013 alone, more than 1,400 corpses were delivered to the mortuary from this facility.

A former detainee who spent four months in detention described how on arrival “The soldiers said: “Welcome to your die house. Welcome to your place of death.” Only 11 of the 122 men he was arrested with survived.

Starvation, dehydration and disease

Amnesty International researchers witnessed emaciated corpses in mortuaries, and one former Giwa detainee told the organization that around 300 people in his cell died after being denied water for two days. “Sometimes we drank people’s urine, but even the urine you at times could not get.”

The evidence gathered from former detainees and eyewitnesses is also corroborated by senior military sources. One senior military officer told Amnesty International that detention centers are not given sufficient money for food and that detainees in Giwa barracks are “deliberately starved.”

Disease - including possible outbreaks of cholera - was rife. A police officer posted at a detention facility known as the “Rest House” in Potiskum told Amnesty International how more than 500 corpses were buried in and around the camp. “They don’t take them to the hospital if they are sick or to the mortuary if they die,” he said.

Overcrowding and suffocation
Conditions of detention in Giwa barracks and detention centers in Damaturu were so overcrowded that hundreds of detainees were packed into small cells where they had to take turns sleeping or even sitting on the floor. At its peak, Giwa barracks -- which was not built as a detention facility -- was accommodating more than 2,000 detainees at one time.