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Africa

Nigeria's security forces accused of rights abuses

Amnesty International has accused Nigeria’s security forces of massive human rights violations in their fight against the Islamist sect Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Rights group Amnesty International says Nigeria's security forces are using the wrong methods to fight Boko Haram and are thereby fuelling the very conflict they are trying to quell. The London-based rights group also said Nigeria's military showed "little regard for the rule of law or human rights" in its campaign against the extremists.

Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have claimed more than 2,800 lives since 2009, including killings by security forces.

Efforts by civil society to promote dialogue in northern Nigeria suffered yet another setback on Sunday (28.10.12) when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a church in Kaduna killing seven people. The attack came just two days after Muslim holiday festivities in the city during which the focus was on interfaith dialogue.

A building that has bombed.October 28, 2012. Photo:AFP/Getty Images)

Militant Isamist sect Boko Haram has been linked to several church bombings in northern Nigeria

"We celebrated together," said the local Kaduna iman, Muhammad Nuraini Ashafa, "not only the Muslims, but together with our Christian friends."

Nigerian government blamed

The blast at St. Rita's Catholic church is believed to be the work of the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has been linked to previous attacks on churches in northern Nigeria.

Observers suspect Boko Haram wants to sabotage dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Yet this is only a religious conflict on the surface. Closer examination reveals that it is also a secular battle.

"On one hand we are dealing with a terror organization," said Amnesty International's Lucy Freeman. "On the other, the government security forces, the police and the army."

In a report just released, Amnesty refers to unlawful violence on both sides with devastating consequences for the human rights of those trapped in the middle. The rights group blames the Nigerian government.

"Before the situation can be improved, you need to stop it from getting worse, " said Freeman. According to the report, the security forces have been putting many people in detention for lengthy periods without charge or trial, and extra-judicial killings are conducted on a daily basis.

Poltical solution

Yahaya Shinku once held the rank of major in the Nigerian armed forces. He is shocked by the way government security forces are harassing innocent civilians under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan Fotograf: Katrin Gänsler 04. April 2011

President Goodluck Jonathan is under pressure to end the violence in northern Nigeria

Yet while the innocent suffer, the guilty apparently escape unpunished. Shinku says one never sees those responsible for past attacks in court answering for their crimes. "There is no sign of the government having taken action against them," he said.

It is not unknown for Christians to try and destroy churches and for Muslims to be caught in mosques with bombs. "That invariably leads to acts of violence against the other side," Shinku said. "Some Nigerians in the north wonder whether the government in Abuja might also be involved, because it wants to destabilize the north," he added.

The religious divide, the major believes, works to the advantage of the government. "If Muslims and Christians aren't cooperating, the government can pursue its goals more easily," he said. If Christians in the north feel threatened, they are likely to gravitate towards President Jonathan, a Christian from the south.

Nigeria has been trying to resolve this conflict by force for far too long, Shinku believes. Every now and again the government forms a committee with the purpose of asking the population in the north for their advice on how to bring about peace. But the findings of such inquiries are generally ignored. Shinku estimates that there have been five such committees. "They all came to the same conclusion, namely that the government should enter into dialogue with the warring factions."

Meanwhile in Kaduna, Imam Muhammad Nuraini Ashafa is trying to contain the damage done by the church bombing and the reprisal attacks. "People have to understand that religion is not the right means for resolving social conflicts," he told a local radio station. The crisis we face is not a religious one, but a political one and it needs a political solution." .

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