Amnesty International has uncovered how the Nigerian military burned and forcibly displaced entire villages in response to a recent escalation in attacks by the armed group Boko Haram.
Amnesty International said the report is based on interviews with affected villagers in Borno State and satellite data analysis.
According to AI, the military 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.
Ojigho added “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.”
AI said, “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.
” We 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.
According to AI, 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.
Amnesty International said, “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.
“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.
According to the witness “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.”