Group of young men killed in Potiskum, Yobe state, by the security forces following an attack by Boko Haram in a nearby village

An increase in attacks by Boko Haram and uncontrolled reprisals by
Nigeria’s security forces has seen the death toll in North East Nigeria
rise to at least 1,500 people, more than half of whom are civilians, in
the first three months of 2014, Amnesty International said in a briefing published today.

escalation of violence in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014 has developed
into a situation of non-international armed conflict in which all
parties are violating international humanitarian law.  We urge the
international community to ensure prompt, independent investigations
into acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,”
said Netsanet Belay, Research and Advocacy Director for Africa at
Amnesty International.

“More than 1,500 deaths in three
months indicate an alarming deterioration in the situation. The
international community cannot continue to look the other way in the
face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes
under international law being committed on a mass scale. Civilians are
paying a heavy price as the cycle of violations and reprisals gather

More than half of the killings have been
carried out by members of the Islamist armed group Boko Haram, including
scores of schoolchildren who have been the victims of deliberate

Amnesty International has documented the
killings carried out in January, February and March 2014 by both Boko
Haram and the Nigerian Security Forces. It highlights 14 March as a
tipping point when the security forces unleashed a brutal crackdown on
former detainees.

On 14 March Boko Haram gunmen attacked
the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, Borno state. They reportedly
fought their way into the detention facilities and freed several hundred
detainees. Amnesty International has received credible evidence that as
the military regained control, more than 600 people, mostly unarmed
recaptured detainees, were extra-judicially executed in various
locations across Maiduguri.

Amnesty International has
pieced together a partial timeline of events following the 14 March
attack in Maiduguri. The evidence is based on interviews with residents,
lawyers, human rights campaigners, and hospital staff across the city
as well as satellite imagery showing three possible mass graves in one
area of Maiduguri.

“The scale of atrocities carried out
by Boko Haram is truly shocking creating a climate of fear and
insecurity. But this cannot be used to justify the brutality of the
response that is clearly being meted out by the Nigerian security
forces,” said Netsanet Belay.
Amongst the testimony gathered by
Amnesty International were the voices of witnesses who described what
happened when the military found 56 of those who had escaped from the
Giwa barracks.

“The former detainees were in a classroom.
They started screaming ‘we are not Boko Haram. We are detainees!’ My
neighbours and I saw the soldiers take the men to a place called ‘no
man’s land,’ behind the University of Maiduguri. We watched as the
soldiers opened fire killing all 56. They were killed in front of us.
All of them.”

Other eyewitnesses in Jiddari Polo, also in
Maiduguri, described how members of the “Civilian Joint Task Force”
 rounded up freed prisoners and handed them to soldiers. More than 190
people were executed, many of whom were too frail to run.

saw the soldiers asking the people to lie on the ground. There was a
small argument between the soldiers and the civilian JTF. The soldiers
made some calls and a few minutes later they started shooting the people
on the ground. I counted 198 people killed at that checkpoint.”

Nigeria’s apparent unwillingness and inability to investigate and
prosecute perpetrators of these crimes, Amnesty International is calling
on the African Commission and the United Nations to assist Nigeria in
investigating acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against
humanity committed by both Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces
in north-eastern Nigeria.

“The summary killing of these
detainees amount to extrajudicial executions and are crimes under
international law. These killings follow an entrenched pattern of deaths
in custody of detainees held in relation to the situation in the
northeast,” said Netsanet Belay.
“The international community,
and in particular the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
and the UN Human Rights Council, must, as a matter of urgency, ensure
that a thorough, impartial and transparent investigation is conducted
into these allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in

Amnesty International is also calling on the
African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS) and the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to assess
immediately the conflict situation in north-eastern Nigeria and provide
full and effective support to end these acts of violence against
civilians. It must also strongly condemn the on-going war crimes and
crimes against humanity committed by all parties to the conflict.

Nigeria assumes the chairmanship of the African Union’s Peace and
Security Council next month, the AU needs to critically ask itself how
far its member States are living up to their commitment to uphold the
principles of the African Union and respect for rule of law and human
rights,” said Netsanet Belay.