In a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International puts the spotlight on conditions in Nigeria’s notorious Giwa barracks. Adults and children are detained without contact to the outside world.
DW: Giwa barracks are located in Maiduguri, in the Nigerian region hardest hit by the Boko Haram insurgency. What kinds of detainees are kept there?
Daniel Eyre: Maiduguri is really the epicenter of the conflict. We estimate that at least 1,200 detainees are kept in the barracks. These are people who are kept on suspicion of being supporters or members of Boko Haram. But when we spoke to people who were arrested or who witnessed these arrests, it becomes clear that many people have been arrested completely arbitrarily, often because they are young men who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In your report, you say you have gathered evidence from former detainees and eyewitnesses. Apart from what they say, have there been any medical tests that can confirm that the victims died as a result of the conditions under which they were detained?
One of the problems is that when people die in detention, no autopsy is conducted. They are simply taken away and buried. There is no official account of what happened to them. We obtained photographs of some of those who died and had them subjected to analysis by a forensic anthropologist. The analysis was that the images are consistent with a lack of access to food and water and death as a result of disease. That is exactly what people who were detained in the barracks are telling us, that they are not getting enough water or food, people are losing weight as a result and disease is rife inside the barracks. So those are the causes of death as far we can establish.
What has been the government’s response or reason given for not acting?
Deaths in military detention are an issue that we have covered since 2013. Under previous administrations in Nigeria, we found that more than 7,000 people died in military custody between 2011 and 2015. That’s a truly horrific number. Although steps have been taken in the last couple of years to try and improve conditions in military custody, we believe that recent mass arrests of suspects have erased those gains.
We wrote several letters to both the military leadership and also to the government of Nigeria, asking them for more information and to comment on our findings. We have yet to receive a response.
What steps has Amnesty International taken to ensure that the relatives or the victims get justice or some kind of compensation?
For a long time, we have been campaigning for investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity that may have been committed by both sides to the conflict: both atrocities by Boko Haram and also crimes by the military. And, in fact, President Muhammadu Buhari last June promised that his government would investigate evidence of these crimes. We have yet to see serious action taken to start those investigations, and these latest deaths show why it is all the more urgent that those investigations begin and hold people to account for what happened.
Is the Giwa barracks case an isolated case or is this something we can find in other prisons as well?
In the past we have documented a pattern across military detention facilities in the northeast. In our report from June 2015, we spoke about a number of facilities in several different states where conditions were terrible, where we documented torture and ill treatment of detainees and even suspects simply being shot by soldiers. Since the new administration, we have only looked at what happened in Giwa barracks, and this is the place that really concerns us now. These latest deaths show why Giwa barracks needs to be closed and investigations need to be carried out into conditions in all military detention facilities.
Daniel Eyre is a Nigeria researcher with Amnesty International.
Interview: Jane Ayeko-Kümmeth