Revelations of the slaughter and secret burial of 347 members of a Shi’ite religious group in mass graves by the Nigerian army must be urgently investigated, said Amnesty International today, and anyone suspected of criminal responsibility for these crimes must be brought to trial.
The acknowledgment of the extrajudicial killings which took place between 12-14 December 2015 in Zaria, were made by a Kaduna government official at a Public Hearing of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry and echoes Amnesty International’s own findings.
“The horrific revelation by the Kaduna State government that hundreds of Shi’ites were gunned down and dumped in mass graves is an important first step to bringing all those suspected of criminal responsibility for this atrocity to trial,” said Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, M.K. Ibrahim.
“It is now imperative that the mass grave sites are protected in order that a full independent forensic investigation can begin. The bodies must be exhumed and Nigerian authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of those held in unacknowledged detention and either charge or release them.”
Amnesty International has been conducting research in the Zaria killings since January 2016. A comprehensive report will be published in the near future.
The Kaduna State Government on Monday announced that 347 persons were killed during the December 12 Shiite/Nigerian Army clash in Zaria.
The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Balarabe Lawal, disclosed this in a government submission at the ongoing Public Hearing of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the clash.
The burial of the victims was done in secret, and this is the first time the state government was explaining how the remains of the killed shiite members were disposed.
Mr. Lawal, who led a six-man government witnesses before the panel, said 191 corpses were taken from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, and were buried at Mando area of Kaduna.
He said 156 corpses were also conveyed from the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria, to the same Mando area.
The official said the corpses were those of youth members of the Islam Movement (IMN) who he alleged attempted to attack the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Dec. 12, 2015, in Zaria.
The state government said the corpses were committed into a single grave (mass burial) at the Mando area jointly supervised by the state government officials and about 40 men of the Nigerian Army, led by an officer in the rank of a Major.
Mr. Lawal did not say whether relatives of the victims were given opportunity to identify and recover their loved ones before the state labelled them unknown corpses and buried them in a mass grave.
Another witness and Director-General, Kaduna State Interfaith Agency, Namadi Musa, said the mass burial was conducted on December 14 and 15, respectively, and that it took the officials about six hours to complete the burial.
Mr. Musa said while six tonnes of Mercedes tippers conveyed the 191 corpses from the ABUTH, the Army used three heavy duty trucks to convey corpses from the Zaria Army Depot.
“The mass burial was authorised through a warrant of burial obtained from a Kaduna Chief Magistrates’ Court in Kaduna,’’ he said.