When Human Rights Watch visited Benue in mid December 2001, there was still a heavy military presence, especially around the town of Katsina-Ala, in eastern Benue State.27
In the aftermath of the killings and destruction of October 22 to 24, Human Rights Watch received reports of other human rights violations by soldiers stationed in the area, including several cases of rape of women and young girls, and persistent ill-treatment, harassment, extortion, and looting. Many of these abuses appeared to be carried out with the sole purpose of humiliating and intimidating the victims, as well as the broader population of the area. Victims and witnesses reported that while carrying out these abuses, soldiers would often insult them on the basis of their ethnicity.28
Immediately after the military operation of October 22-24, soldiers set up a base in Katsina-Ala. Initially they took over many buildings in the town, including the central church which was being used to house internally displaced people who had to be moved out to make way for the soldiers. In November, the soldiers moved out of the church and set up tents in fields belonging to a college. For a while, until the end of November, the soldiers also took over the office of the road transport union; they were reported to be extorting money from drivers of vehicles and beating transport workers, with the result that drivers became afraid to pass through Katsina-Ala. Numerous military roadblocks were set up in and around Katsina-Ala and were still in place in January.
At the end of October and in November, soldiers committed a number of rapes of women and young girls that were reported to Human Rights Watch. While many of the victims were too afraid to report the rapes to the police, particularly while the soldiers were still in the area, a number of cases were independently confirmed by a variety of local sources. For example two sisters, aged sixteen and thirteen, were raped by soldiers on the night of November 9. At about 2 a.m., soldiers burst into their house in Katsina-Ala. The two girls were sleeping in the same room. Two of the soldiers went inside, while the others stood guard outside, singing. The soldiers threatened to kill the girls if they refused to have sex with them. They told the girls that they had killed "Mama Tiv" (a reference to Victor Malu's elderly aunt, see above), therefore they could easily also kill them or any other Tiv woman. One of the two soldiers took the younger sister out of the house and dragged her to a market nearby. There he tried to rape her; she begged him not to and offered him the little money she had on her. The soldier took the money and raped her anyway. Meanwhile the other soldier had stayed in the house with the older sister. He told her to remove her clothes. When she tried to resist, he slapped her and kicked her, then raped her inside the house. A brother who was in the next room tried to intervene; the soldier made him lie down on the floor with his wife, kicked him and hit him with his gun, injuring him on his arm and chest. The soldiers left after about forty-five minutes.29
Several local sources reported that a young woman, aged about twenty, was raped by seven soldiers in Katsina-Ala, on November 3. The woman was travelling on a motorcycle. The soldiers stopped the motorcycle, told the driver to leave, and took the woman away to a building near a roadblock, where seven of them raped her. They then pleaded with her not to report the rape and reportedly even offered her money.30
Local residents reported that in November, some soldiers who were stopping people at checkpoints around Katsina-Ala had told some of the men to leave and had abducted the women traveling with them and sexually abused them. There were allegations that some of them were being kept by the soldiers in their camps.
While the majority of rape cases reported to Human Rights Watch took place between the end of October and the end of November, other forms of abuse by the military continued into December. The most common complaints by residents were of systematic extortion and harassment, especially at roadblocks, and looting. Soldiers regularly plundered farms which had been abandoned by frightened farmers, harvesting the crops and selling the produce. A source in Makurdi reported that in mid-November, more than fifteen military trucks were seen passing through the town carrying yams and other goods, and that soldiers in Abako town were harassing farmers and preventing them from returning to their fields to harvest their crops.31 In mid-December, there was still a military presence at Vaase, despite the fact that the village was almost empty. Local residents complained that the soldiers were harassing the few people who were still there, harvesting their crops and stealing machinery and vehicles. Residents of Gbeji also complained of looting and extortion by soldiers. One man told Human Rights Watch that soldiers had come on four consecutive days in mid- November and asked the residents of Gbeji to give them yams or money. "They said that if we didn't give them what they wanted, they would not cooperate with us. People were afraid, so we ran into the bush to hide [...] Soldiers are still taking our yams and beating people."32
In Katsina-Ala, soldiers forced their way into the house of an ex-serviceman who had been operating "local collections"-a kind of informal banking system-and took all the money he had been storing and other belongings. Another man in Katsina-Ala told how soldiers had forced their way into his house during the night of November 9 and robbed him of money and personal belongings, at gunpoint, threatening to kill him if he did not hand over his money. After taking the money he had on him, they said he must have more and asked where his earnings of the previous day were. He said they were with his mother. At gunpoint, he was made to lead them to his mother, where they took all the remaining money. They threatened to come back and kill him if he reported the incident to anybody. However, he did report it to a soldier who was from his own area of origin; the matter was raised with the commander and some of his stolen property was found in the possession of the soldiers.33
Residents of the area reported systematic harassment at military checkpoints, including extortion of money and other belongings. Soldiers would stop and search both men and women passing through and demand part or all of what they carried on them. They regularly seized goods from women traveling to and from the market. A group of men who had just arrived in Makurdi from Taraba State, following an attack the previous week by Jukuns and Fulanis in their home area in Bali local government area, said: "We were harassed along the road by soldiers. There were nine roadblocks where the soldiers extorted money. They said: "Give us your money because you killed our soldiers." They insulted us and threatened to beat us. One young man was beaten because he had no money. He was beaten three times with sticks on his back. Each man had to give 200 naira, each woman 100."34
There have been numerous cases of ill-treatment and humiliation by soldiers. For example, a man traveling to Katsina-Ala witnessed soldiers humiliating a woman after overhearing a comment she had made implying that soldiers were taking bribes. He described how they ordered her to strip completely and made people look at her while she stood there naked, for about one hour. Men, especially those who tried to challenge the soldiers, were often beaten and forced to do frog-jumps and other "exercises" at the checkpoints. A man in Zaki-Biam told how his brother had been harassed by soldiers at the Benue-Taraba border: the soldiers stripped him and took his belongings. Some activities were suspended for several weeks from the end of October: a man in Gbeji said the market had remained closed, while a man in Kyado said many people had not attended church for at least three weeks, because of fear of harassment by the military.35
A woman from Katsina-Ala, who had witnessed many cases of harassment at military roadblocks, told Human Rights Watch:36
Soldiers are taking yams and firewood by force. They extort money. If you protest, they beat you. One day I saw a motorbike rider, a man in his thirties, who had been stripped and beaten by the soldiers. They made him lie on his back and look at the sun with open eyes. His back was peeling from the hot tar. They made him stay there for one hour. They beat him with their gun butts and kicked him. It was in the middle of town, in early November.
They do the same thing to refugees coming from Taraba. Some of them have injuries from being beaten at roadblocks. The military insult them, they say: "You're Tiv, we will destroy you."
[...] On November 17, the vehicle I was travelling in was stopped at a roadblock. The driver hadn't seen the roadblock. The soldiers shouted at him. The driver stopped and explained he hadn't seen them. The soldiers made all the men in the vehicle get out and line up. I was so afraid because it reminded me of what had happened in Zaki-Biam and other places. I got out and intervened. I said to the soldiers they should leave the men alone and they should kill me instead. In the end, none of them were killed and we all got away.
There were also reports of further shootings by soldiers, some of them fatal, since the end of October. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm all of these, but received similar information from different sources, in different locations. In the first few days of November, several cases of shootings by soldiers were reported in towns and villages on the Taraba-Benue border. Five people were reported to have been killed on November 2 in Jootar, Abako, and Tseakhir; two of them were shot dead while they were holding the funeral of a victim of an earlier attack.37 More recently, residents of Gbeji reported that a twenty-seven-year-old man was shot and injured by soldiers in the bush in mid-December.38
27 The soldiers in Katsina-Ala are from units stationed in Benue State. However, there had not been any military presence there before the events of October 2001.
28 Human Rights Watch interviews in Katsina-Ala and other locations in Benue, December 2001.
29 Human Rights Monitor interview in Katsina-Ala, December 17, 2001.
30 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, November 16, 2001 and interview in Abuja, December 21, 2001.
31 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, November 16, 2001.
32 Human Rights Watch interview in Gbeji, December 14, 2001.
33 Human Rights Monitor interviews in Katsina-Ala, December 17, 2001.
34 Human Rights Watch interview in Makurdi, December 13, 2001.
35 Human Rights Watch interviews in various locations in Benue, December 2001.
36 Human Rights Watch interview in Abuja, December 21, 2001.
37 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, November 6, 2001.
38 Human Rights Watch interview in Gbeji, December 14, 2001.