Amnesty censures Nigeria army massacre of Shia Muslims
Amnesty International says the Nigerian army deliberately massacred hundreds of supporters of a leading Shia leader last December and dumped their corpses in mass graves to cover up the crime.
The UK-based rights body said in a Friday report that the Nigerian army killed over 350 supporters of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky and tried to meticulously destroy evidence of the crime by burying the victims in mass graves and limiting access to conflict sites in the city of Zaria, Kaduna State.
On December 12, Nigerian soldiers attacked Shia Muslims attending a ceremony at a religious center in Zaria, accusing them of blocking the convoy of the army’s chief of staff and attempting to assassinate him.
A day later, Nigerian forces raided the home of Zakzaky, who leads the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), and arrested him after killing those attempting to protect him.
Both incidents led to the deaths of hundreds of members of the religious community, including three of Zakzaky’s sons. Some sources have put the toll at over 1,000.
“The Nigerian military burned people alive, razed buildings and dumped victims’ bodies in mass graves,” said the report, adding, “Bodies were taken away, sites were razed to the ground, the rubble removed, bloodstains washed off, and bullets and spent cartridges removed from the streets.”
The report, titled “Unearthing the truth: unlawful killings and mass cover-up in Zaria,” said the Nigerian army has provided “no evidence” to support the claim that the IMN supporters had attempted to assassinate the army chief.
Investigations show that Nigerian soldiers acted “unlawfully” by shooting “indiscriminately” at unarmed protesters, according to Amnesty.
Witnesses have also given gruesome accounts of the carnage.
“From far I could only see a big mound but when I got closer I saw it was a huge pile of corpses. I have never seen so many dead bodies,” a witness to the Zaria massacre told the rights group.
Another resident said “those who were badly injured and could not escape were burned alive.”
Meanwhile Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for Africa said that the massacre of civilians and the shocking atrocities by the Nigerian army is gradually coming to light.
“Bodies were left littered in the streets and piled outside the mortuary. Some of the injured were burned alive,” Belay said, noting, “Our research, based on witness testimonies and analysis of satellite images, has located one possible mass grave. It is time now for the military to come clean and admit where it secretly buried hundreds of bodies.”
“It is clear that the military not only used unlawful and excessive force against men, women and children, unlawfully killing hundreds, but then made considerable efforts to try to cover-up these crimes,” the Amnesty official said.
The report also blames Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for failing to probe army crimes against civilians.
Despite Buhari’s pledge to investigate the war crimes, “to date no concrete steps have been taken to end endemic impunity for such crimes,” it pointed out.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also slammed the carnage and said Nigerian forces committed several instances of bloodshed against the country’s Shia community in mid-December 2015.
The Nigerian army had also targeted Shias in August 2014 as people were holding a demonstration to condemn Israeli attacks on the Palestinians.