Nigeria wants trial for 500 held during raids

2013-12-04 22:31

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Abuja - Nigeria said on Wednesday that 500 people who were arrested during security operations against Boko Haram militants in three northeast states should be put on trial for terror offences.

The 500 are among nearly 1 400 detained in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states between July and September, the country's defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, said in a statement.

Human rights groups have criticised what they said were arbitrary detentions as well as torture and deaths in custody, calling for suspects to either be put on trial or released without charge.

Olukolade said that "high-profile suspects, some of whom were training other terrorists in weapon-handling, as well as those who confessed to being trained in Mali and other countries for the purpose of perpetrating terror in Nigeria" were among those recommended for trial.

Others included "a medical doctor, paramilitary and other individuals who offered direct logistics support to the terrorists", he added.

Human rights lawyers in the country cautiously welcomed the announcement, applauding the pledge to adhere to due process and the rule of law but warning that justice may not be swift for the detainees.

Lawyer Jiti Ogunye described the move as "significant" but voiced concern that the military may simply be using the justice system to rubber stamp the indefinite detention of purported insurgents.

"If you look at our criminal justice system, there are problems handling just one terrorism case," he told AFP.

"How can the system cope with a load of 500? My concern is that these people are just going to be brought to court so a judge can issue a remand order" and they may not face trial for many years, he added.

The president of the Campaign for Democracy umbrella group of human rights organisations in Nigeria, Joe Okei-Odumakin, said the announcement was "both a welcome and ugly development".

"It is a welcome development because they will at last be moving towards getting justice that they deserve," he said.

"But it is an ugly development because holding them in detention and incommunicado without trial for several months infringes on their fundamental human rights to freedom."

'Deaths in detention'

Nigeria's government imposed emergency rule on Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in May this year and in November won approval from parliament for a six-month extension of special powers.

Thousands of people have lost their lives during the insurgency either in Boko Haram attacks or as a result of the military response.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have highlighted the issue of enforced disappearances and detention without charge of suspected militants.

In October, Amnesty claimed that more than 950 people had died in military custody in the first six months of 2013 alone, mostly at military barracks in Maiduguri and Damataru.

Human Rights Watch last week called for "all those who committed crimes during the conflict, including members of the government security forces and pro-government vigilante groups" to be prosecuted.

Nigeria's defence ministry said that 167 detainees had been recommended for release from facilities in the cities of Maiduguri, Yola and Damataru, while the cases of 614 individuals should be reviewed.

Some of those held should be tried for other offences, including armed robbery, murder and drug offences, the statement added.

Nigeria appointed a team to look at the cases of those detained in July this year with the aim of easing overcrowding in detention facilities in the northeast as well as leading to the prosecution of terror suspects.

Their report has been sent to President Goodluck Jonathan, while the country's national security adviser is considering the recommendations for prosecution with the attorney general, the statement added.

Nigeria's chief of defence staff, Admiral Ola Saad Ibrahim, said that "the recommendations will be treated with dispatch after due consultations with appropriate authorities".

Read more on:    boko haram  |  goodluck jonathan  |  nigeria  |  west africa

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