Military razes villages as Boko Haram attacks escalate – Newsdiaryonline

Military razes villages as Boko Haram attacks escalate – Newsdiaryonline

The Nigerian military has burned and forcibly displaced entire
villages in response to a recent escalation in attacks by the armed
group Boko Haram, Amnesty International said today, based on interviews
with affected villagers in Borno State and satellite data analysis.

The military also arbitrarily detained six men from the displaced
villages, continuing a pattern of violations Amnesty International has
documented throughout the country’s decade-long armed conflict in the
northeast. The men were held incommunicado for almost a month and
subjected to ill-treatment, before their release on 30 January 2020.

“These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying
civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no
imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war
crimes,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying
civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no
imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war
crimes.
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria

“They repeat a longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military’s brutal
tactics against the civilian population. Forces allegedly responsible
for such violations must be suspended immediately and brought to
justice.”

Unlawful tactics

From December 2019, Boko Haram has increasingly carried out attacks
in northeastern Nigeria, particularly along the important road between
Maiduguri and Damaturu, the capitals of Borno and Yobe States. A recent
Amnesty International research mission to Borno State shows that, in
response to the attacks, the Nigerian military has resorted to unlawful
tactics that have had a devastating effect on civilians and may amount
to war crimes.

Amnesty International interviewed 12 women and men forced to flee
their homes on 3 and 4 January 2020 from three villages near the
Maiduguri-Damaturu road, between Jakana and Mainok in Borno State. The
organization also reviewed fire data from remote satellite sensing,
which indicates several large fires burning on and around 3 January in
that area. Satellite imagery of Bukarti, Ngariri, and Matiri shows
almost every structure was razed. The imagery also shows signs of
burning in neighbouring villages.

Residents from Bukarti consistently described to Amnesty International
scores of Nigerian soldiers arriving during the late morning of Friday 3
January. They said soldiers went house to house and to surrounding
farmland, forcing everyone to gather under a tree and by a graveyard
between Bukarti and the main road. Soldiers also rounded up people from
neighbouring Matiri and brought them to the same area.

Villages torched

Around 3 pm on 3 January, soldiers demanded everyone walk to the main
road, where the villagers were forced to board large trucks. Witnesses
said that, as they were loaded into the trucks, some of the soldiers
returned to Bukarti. The witnesses then saw their village burning.

“We saw our houses go into flames,” recalled a woman, around 70 years old, from Bukarti. “We all started crying.”

“We saw our houses go into flames. We all started crying.”
A woman, around 70 years old, from Bukarti.

The trucks then took more than 400 women, men, and children from
Bukarti and Matiri to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp near
Maiduguri.

The next day, on 4 January, soldiers went to
Ngariri, a village across the main road from Bukarti, according to three
residents of Ngariri. Soldiers assembled primarily older women and men,
as younger adults had already fled to surrounding farmland, and forced
them aboard a truck that took them to Maiduguri. Ngariri was then razed.

People who returned to check on Bukarti and Ngariri told
Amnesty International that everything was torched. Satellite imagery
corroborates both villages were burned in early January.

Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International said they could not bring
belongings with them, so lost everything – their homes, jewellery,
clothes, and, most devastatingly, the crops they stored after the
harvest.

“Everything we harvested was destroyed, and some of
our animals died,” said a farmer in his 60s. “I had a year [of harvest]
stored – it’s what I would’ve sold to buy clothes and other things for
my family.”

“Everything was burned, even our food – it could feed [my family] for
two years,” said another man, around 30, who snuck back weeks later to
see the destruction. “Our clothes, our food, our crops, our kettles.
Even the trolley we used for getting water. Only the metal dishes are
there, but everything else is burned.”

Ordering the displacement of the inhabitants of these villages,
where their security or imperative military reasons did not demand so,
constitutes a war crime. The subsequent burning of their homes may
amount to a war crime as well.

Satellite image chips show evidence of burnt villages in NE Nigeria's Borno State in early January 2020.

Arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment

As the military emptied Bukarti and Matiri and brought people to the
trucks on 3 January, they separated six younger men and blindfolded
them, according to consistent accounts by relatives of two of the men
and other witnesses. They said the soldiers did not seek the men out by
name or otherwise appear to come looking for specific people. Four
witnesses said they thought it was because those younger men had mobile
phones. 

The soldiers beat at least some of the men with large sticks and
put them in military vehicles. The military held the men incommunicado
for almost a month; relatives and village leaders were unable to
determine where the men were held. All six men were released on 30
January. They have not been charged with any crime.

Two of the
detained men told Amnesty International that, because they were
blindfolded until reaching their cell, they did not know where they were
being held until their release – when they saw it was Maimalari
military barracks in Maiduguri. They said they were chained in pairs
and, other than being questioned one day, never let out of the cell.
They only received food once a day.

“We had no food,” one former detainee described. “People there are hungry. It was horrible.”

Throughout the conflict between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram,
Amnesty International has documented prolonged arbitrary detention by
the military. Soldiers have also subjected detained men, women, and children to torture and other ill-treatment, in violation of both international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

‘They say they saved us from Boko Haram, but it’s a lie’

Nigerian army statements,
reported by the media, indicate soldiers from Brigades 5 and 29, along
with Special Intervention Battalion 2, carried out the operations
between Jakana and Mainok on 3 January. The army said it arrested six
“suspects” and “rescued… 461 Boko Haram captives” from several villages,
including Bukarti and Matiri. 

Witnesses interviewed by Amnesty
International said Boko Haram had not been in their village, and that
they felt significantly safer in their village than in the IDP camp
where the military took them. “They say they saved us from Boko Haram,
but it’s a lie,” said one man, around 65. “Boko Haram isn’t coming to
our village.”

“They say they saved us from Boko Haram, but it’s a lie. Boko Haram isn’t coming to our village.”
A man, around 65.

“If Boko Haram had been visiting our place, we have our own
animals, our own harvest – do you think they wouldn’t have taken those?”
said another older woman from Bukarti. “The [Boko Haram] boys aren’t
close to us.”

Several Bukarti and Ngariri residents said their
village was so close to the main road that it wasn’t credible to think
Boko Haram could base itself there. They said Nigerian soldiers came
through the area regularly and spoke frequently with village leaders.

Four witnesses told Amnesty International that Nigerian soldiers staged
photographs of the villagers walking to the trucks, to make it appear
as if the military had ‘saved’ them.

“The Nigerian government
must not brush these violations under the carpet. They must be
investigated, and alleged perpetrators must be prosecuted. Necessary
steps must also be taken to ensure that military operations do not
further forcibly displace civilian populations,” said Osai Ojigho.

Surge in Boko Haram attacks

The military’s operations come amid a surge in Boko Haram activity in
areas along the Maiduguri-Damaturu road. In its deadliest attack since
the start of year, on 10 February Boko Haram allegedly killed 30
motorists near Auno village. It was the armed group’s sixth assault on
Auno in 10 months, demonstrating its disregard for the sanctity of human
life as well as the increasing danger for civilians living along this
vital route connecting Borno state to the rest of Nigeria. 

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