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(Abuja, July 22, 2003) – Not a single member of the Nigerian police or security forces has been charged with dozens of killings during the “Miss World” riots in Kaduna last November, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 32-page report, “The ‘Miss World riots': continued impunity for killings in Kaduna,” provides detailed eyewitness accounts of how soldiers and police killed people in cold blood between November 21 and 23, during an operation intended to restore law and order.

One of the most serious cases described in the report is the November 22 execution of eight men by a group of police and military, led by a member of a local defense force. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch how the perpetrators picked out their victims one by one, tied them together, led them to a rubbish dump by a riverside and shot them dead at close range.

Fighting between Muslims and Christians broke out in the northern city of Kaduna in November 2002 following controversy around the Miss World beauty contest. Some Muslims considered an article in the newspaper ThisDay to be blasphemous. Muslim youths started attacking Christians, Christians retaliated, and within three days, around 250 people were killed.

“The Nigerian government has not brought anyone to justice for these terrible killings,” said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “This lack of response raises serious questions about the government´s commitment to protecting the lives of ordinary Nigerians.”

Not only did the security forces fail to intervene at the first signs of violence, but once they were deployed, they contributed significantly to the violence by killing and injuring people who were not posing any threat to security.

For reasons that remain unknown, orders were not given to deploy special military “strike force” units, which had been stationed in Kaduna since 2000 with the specific aim of averting such clashes.

When confronted with rioters, the police and soldiers who were deployed often made no attempt to arrest criminal suspects, instead shooting them dead on the spot. The victims included children.

In several cases, the security forces shot people arbitrarily. One man was shot dead by a soldier without warning as he was trying to enter his house in the Nasarawa area. According to eyewitnesses, the soldier shot him in the chest, from the front, then walked away. The victim was unarmed.

The police executed several other people, in some cases after forcing their way into their homes. In several cases, eyewitnesses claimed to have identified the perpetrators.

In response to complaints from local residents, the police said they were launching investigations into some of these cases. However, police threatened and intimidated witnesses who gave statements to them. Several policemen were arrested, but were released within a few days and posted elsewhere. Human Rights Watch does not know of any case that has resulted in formal charges or prosecution.

The Human Rights Watch report also describes well-organized attacks by Muslim and Christian youths during the three days of violence. Youths of both faiths singled out their victims and attacked them purely on the basis of their religion. In addition to killing scores of people, they destroyed many buildings, including churches, mosques, schools and homes.

“Like the security forces, the people who organized and carried out the riots have not been brought to justice,” said Takirambudde. Around 350 people were arrested in connection with the riots, but most were released within a short period. No one has been charged or tried for organizing the violence.

The Human Rights Watch report concludes that the conflict in Kaduna was more political than religious and stemmed from unresolved disputes between different ethnic and political groups. It links the 2002 riots to clashes between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna in 2000, in which more than 2,000 people were killed following disagreements over the introduction of Sharia (Islamic law).

“The Miss World issue was just the trigger,” said Takirambudde. “Sooner or later, violence in Kaduna would have erupted again anyway, because the government has never satisfactorily addressed the underlying tensions which caused such massive loss of life in 2000.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to the Nigerian government including:

  • Investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for the killings in Kaduna in November 2002, including those who planned the inter-communal violence, and members of the Nigerian security forces.
  • Immediately suspending from active duty individual members of the police and military reported to have committed killings, pending investigation and prosecution.
  • Issuing clear instructions to the police and the military that operations to restore law and order are never a justification for extrajudicial killings, and that every effort should be made to arrest criminal suspects without using lethal force.
  • Intensifying efforts to prevent inter-communal violence, including by supporting grassroots initiatives to foster dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and making a concerted effort to listen to the grievances of local communities.

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