Amnesty calls for fair probe into Nigeria Shia clashes

Weekend clashes between Nigerian army and followers of a Shia cleric that left dozens of people dead must be impartially investigated, the watchdog says

Amnesty International has called for an impartial investigation into the weekend clashes between the Nigerian army and followers of a Shia cleric that left dozens of people dead.

Most of the people killed belonged to the Islamic Movement of Nigeria led by cleric Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky.

“An impartial investigation is urgently needed into these killings. Anyone responsible for unlawful killings should be brought to justice. Those in detention must be granted access to medical care as a matter of urgency and either charged with a recognizable criminal offence or released,” Nigerian head of the rights watchdog, M.K. Ibrahim, said in a statement Wednesday.

Nigerian military on Saturday accused the Shia group of an assassination attempt on its army chief Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai in northwestern Kaduna state’s Zaria city.

On Tuesday, the army admitted gunning down at least seven Shia followers of the cleric during its alleged bid to save their army chief. The Shia group contradicted the death toll and said dozens of its members had been killed. A government-owned teaching hospital in the area confirmed receiving at least 61 corpses from the incident.

“Whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt that there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military,” the watchdog said.

“Firearms should only be used as a last resort, if strictly unavoidable, in order to protect life. It is crucial that the authorities refrain from using excessive force and ensure that anyone responsible for unlawful killings is brought to justice in fair trials,” it added.

The group also slammed what it called the history of extrajudicial killings by Nigerian security agencies, including the army, and urged for granting victims access to lawyers and giving medical care to the injured.

“Nigerian security forces have a history of carrying out unlawful killings and other human rights violations. In the course of security operations against Boko Haram, Nigerian military forces have committed serious human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity in north east Nigeria,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, the United States also called on the Nigerian government to “quickly, credibly, and transparently investigate these events in Zaria and hold to account any individuals found to have committed crimes”.

The call was made in a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Abuja in which Washington expressed deep concerns about the reports of the violent clashes. “While many details of the incidents that reportedly began on Dec. 12 remain unclear, we are dismayed to learn of multiple civilian deaths.”

“It is essential that all sides refrain from actions that further destabilize the situation,” the embassy added in its statement released Wednesday.

Also, the Nigerian senate has set up a committee to investigate the incident, two days after the National Human Rights Commission set up a panel to probe the clashes that have claimed dozens of lives. The International Crisis Group also called the incident “a new risk on Nigeria’s fault line”.