(New York, September 21, 1999) — Human Rights Watch has received disturbing reports that Nigerian government security forces have killed several dozen people over the last two weeks in and around Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, in Nigeria's oil-producing region.
According to local activists, a confrontation between youths and security forces on September 9, in which a soldier may have been killed, led to indiscriminate retaliatory attacks on youths in Yenagoa and surrounding areas, in which an unknown number of people were shot and summarily executed by soldiers. Several tens of people, including women and children as well as young men, are feared dead.
In a letter of concern to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, called for an independent judicial inquiry into the disturbances, and for those found responsible for abuses to be brought to justice.
"The recent events fall into a pattern of indiscriminate violence by security forces operating in the delta," said Takirambudde. "Early this year, soldiers killed as many as 200 youths who were protesting the terms of oil production in the delta. The new civilian government seems prepared to use the same methods as the military."
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern at a Nigerian police document it has received, which refers to groups operating in the delta, including human rights groups, as "enemy forces." "If genuine, this documents aggravates the fears of various rights groups in the delta," said Takirambudde. "There cannot be peace in the delta as long as security forces think of rights groups as the 'enemy.'"