LAGOS â€” More than 700 died last November in clashes in the Nigerian city of Jos, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday as it urged the prosecution of members of security forces it accused of “arbitrary killings.”
“Muslim and Christian authorities have collectively documented the deaths of more than 700 people in the two days of violence… The Nigerian police and military were implicated in more than 130 arbitrary killings,” HRW said in a submission to the Plateau State Judicial Commission of Inquiry on the crisis.
The HRW testified before the commission in Jos on Monday, it said in a statement.
“At least 130 men were killed by members of the very institutions charged with protecting them,” Corinne Dufka, a senior HRW researcher, told the commission, according to the statement.
The commission “should investigate and call for the prosecution of members of the security forces responsible for the alleged killing of more than 130 people in November 2008,” the statement said.
Nigerian military and police spokesmen declined to comment on the HRW submission which they said they had yet to see.
The November 28 to 29 clashes which started as political feud over a November 27 local election, later degenerated into bloody confrontation between Muslims and Christians in Jos, capital of Plateau State.
“HRW documented 133 of these killings but believes that the actual number of arbitrary killings by security forces may be substantially higher than these figures,” it said in its submission.
The clashes were triggered by a rumour that the majority-Muslim All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) had lost in a local election to the mainly Christian Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Muslims and Christians for the most part cohabit peacefully in Nigeria.
But Jos, lying in Nigeria’s “middle belt” between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, witnessed violent clashes between the two religious groups in 2001. Hundreds of people were killed.
Following the rumour, youths armed with armed with rifles, pistols, machetes, knives, petrol bombs, rocks and sticks embarked on the violence, the HRW said in its submission.
HRW said that it documented 118 cases of alleged arbitrary killings by security personnel on November 29 alone, a day after the state government imposed a curfew and ordered security forces to shoot trouble makers on sight.
The US-based organisation urged authorities to investigate allegations of “widespread killings by security forces”, make their findings public and prosecute those responsible for the killings and destruction of property.
The HRW showed in its presentation pictures of piles of human corpses, burnt or destroyed buildings and cars in the mayhem.
More than 12,000 people have died in inter-communal clashes since Nigeria embraced democratic rule 10 years ago, HRW said.