Amnesty International: Deaths from Nigeria military operations could amount to a genocide

( — A Nigerian judicial panel has said the March 20 shooting of 48 people on a busy bridge by Nigeria’s military may have been a massacre committed by soldiers seeking revenge for the killing of soldiers in a town by a Boko Haram faction.

The report Thursday blamed the Defence Headquarters, saying soldiers on the bridge in the wealthy, post-colonial city of Lekki “showed totally unacceptable forms of violence against the innocent residents.”

“They showed disregard for human life,” the panel said. “They are responsible for the most heinous of crimes.”

It urged the military, through the Investigating Panel on Human Rights Violations in the Defence and Security Agencies, to immediately bring to justice soldiers that may have committed the crimes, and civilian witnesses who may have witnessed the killings.

The review of the March 20 shootings coincided with renewed pressure on the military from human rights groups to take responsibility for deaths from its operations and to answer questions about the disappearances of civilians by suspected soldiers.

An investigation by Amnesty International published Tuesday showed at least 34 civilians had died in the past eight months in the military operations to hunt down Boko Haram extremists in the northeast region.

Boko Haram, which is waging a six-year insurgency to impose Islamic rule in Nigeria, was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2001. Since 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed, and 2.6 million displaced in Africa’s biggest oil producer.

“The United States continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of children and women held in Nigerian detention facilities in connection with the ongoing conflict between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday.

Members of the armed forces asked to make statements about civilian deaths to the committee also were repeatedly refused, Justice Abdulkadir Abdulkafarati said in the report.

Six judges who served on the panel remained in hiding after the shooting, but a new panel was set up to determine who carried out the shooting of the civilians and what responsibility each had, the report said.

The eight-month-old Boko Haram insurgency, which has not suffered major setbacks since its launch in 2009, has cost an estimated 15,000 lives and created more than 3 million people to flee their homes.

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