Nigeria: IHRC Cautiously Welcomes Inquiry Findings into #ZariaMassacre

President Buhari and army chief Tukur Buratai

IHRC welcomes the recommendation of the judicial commission of inquiry into the massacre of hundreds of members of Nigeria’s Islamic Movement last December that the general behind the savage attack be prosecuted.

The panel’s report, which was submitted to Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai last Friday, is yet to be made public but it is reported to be highly damning of the General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army’s 1st Division, Adeniyi Oyebade.

According to the Nigerian press which has obtained a copy of the report, it accuses the general of orchestrating the military operation outside the chain of command.

A representative of the Kaduna State government told the commission of inquiry that 347 bodies were handed over by the army for a secret mass burial. But despite the evidence, the army claimed it killed only seven IMN members who blocked a public road and attempted to assassinate Tukur Buratai, the chief of army staff who was passing through the area. The army maintained the line that troops only used force after the IMN put Mr. Buratai’s life in danger.

IHRC has evidence that the IMN lost more than a thousand members in the attack that took place between December 12-14 in Zaria.

The leader of the imn, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife Zeenat were arrested by soldiers during the operation and remain in custody without charge.

It is disappointing that the report holds neither the federal government nor the army leadership responsible for the massacre blaming it on a ‘rogue’ general. This effectively lets them off the hook.

Finding that the military employed disproportionate force to quell what it calls civil unrest seems like an attempt to find a scapegoat, a rogue operator, for what was essentially a pre-planned massacre.

According to eyewitnesses who have spoken with IHRC, the military assault appears to have been pre-planned, highly organised and targeted. During their orgy of violence soldiers targeted the leadership of the IMN and its symbols. They destroyed the Hussainiyyah Baqiyatullah which served as the movement’s headquarters, demolished the premises housing the tomb of Sheikh Zakzaky’s mother and smashed up graves belonging to the victims of another army massacre in July 2014 which led to the killing of 34 civilians. By all accounts it was a well-organised attempt to snuff out the IMN.

The panel said it was able to confirm the deaths of 349 people, including a soldier. But it made clear it lacked the cooperation of military officials to establish the actual number of those killed.

General Oyebade and other yet-to-be-disclosed officers who participated in the operation “should be brought to trial before a court of competent jurisdiction”, says the report.

The army has stubbornly refused to cooperate with the inquiry, something for which it was criticised by the commission.

The mass burial of victims by the state authorities also prevented the commission from establishing the exact causes of death. The panel further found the state’s failure to segregate corpses according to their gender breached Islamic traditions and other relevant burial laws of Kaduna State and also Rule 115 of the Geneva Convention.

While IHRC has always maintained that the judicial inquiry was flawed and biased we nevertheless welcome its acknowledgement that a massacre indeed took place and that it was planned and executed by a section of the Nigerian military. It is a first step in establishing the truth and getting accountability and justice for the victims.

IHRC would like to reiterate its call for the Chief of Army Staff Tukutur Buratai and the state authorities in Kaduna to be investigated for their role in the massacre and for the authorities to immediately release all IMN members detained in the assault.

We also call for an independent investigation into reports of depraved violence during the massacre with people being burnt alive or being hacked to death with machetes and knives. Acts of sordid sexual violence have been reported including cases of rape against women affiliates of the IMN. A 14-year old female witness told IHRC that the military shot her in her private parts when she resisted attempts by soldiers to rape her. Some women reportedly had their breasts cut off and others were deliberatelly shot in the pelvic region damaging their uteri.

Notes to editors:

Last March IHRC called on the International Criminal Court to to open a preliminary inquiry into the December 2015 massacre.

Our report which we submitted to the ICC can be found here

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