Babies among 149 dead in horrific conditions in Giwa Barracks, Nigeria

Eleven children under age of six have died since February – more than 120 children remain in Nigerian army’s notorious detention centre descried as ‘place of death’ Babies and young children are among at least 149 people who have died already this year after being held in “harrowing and horrifying” conditions in Nigeria’s notorious Giwa barracks detention centre in Maiduguri, Amnesty International has revealed today (11 May).
Evidence gathered through interviews with former detainees and eyewitnesses, supported by video and photos, shows that many detainees seem to have died from disease, hunger, dehydration and gunshots wounds. Amnesty’s 28-page briefing, ‘If you see it, you will cry’: Life and death in Giwa barracks, contains satellite imagery of recently-dug graves which corroborates witness testimonies concerning the disposal of bodies from Giwa.
The 149 deaths occurred between January and 28 April this year – with the deadliest month March, which saw 65 deaths. Amnesty believes that some 1,200 people are still detained at Giwa barracks in extremely overcrowded and highly unsanitary conditions.
Many of Giwa’s detainees have been arbitrarily rounded up during mass arrests in Borno state during the Nigerian military’s operations against the Boko Haram armed group. In particular, men and teenage boys have been arrested after they had fled to towns such as Banki and Bama, or after spending time in internally-displaced people’s camps. Amnesty has documented three cases of such mass arbitrary arrest in 2016 involving several hundred people. Arrests appear to be arbitrary, involving random profiling based on an individual’s sex and age rather than any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Once inside Giwa barracks, detainees have been denied all access to the outside world or trial proceedings.
Around 120 of those currently detained in Giwa are children, while at least 12 children have died there since February. One witness told Amnesty they saw the bodies of eight dead children – including a five-month-old, two one-year-olds, a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old and two five-year-olds. Two former detainees reported that two boys and a girl, aged between one and two, died in February.
Meanwhile, a 40-year-old woman detained in Giwa barracks for more than four months told Amnesty that soldiers ignored pleas for medical attention: “Measles started when [the] hot season started. In the morning, two or three [were ill], by the evening five babies [were ill]. You will see the fever, the body is very hot and they will cry day and night. The eyes were red and the skin will have some rashes. Later some medical personnel came and confirmed that this is measles.” After the deaths of these children she says that more regular medical checks began: “Every two days the medical personnel will come to the yard and say ‘bring out the children who are sick’. The doctor will see them at the door and give them medicine through the door.” Despite these measures, it appears that children have continued to die. During 22-25 April, a one-year-old boy, a five-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl all died.
Meanwhile, boys over five, arrested alone or with their parents, have been held in a single cell, and as with all detainees at the barracks have been denied access to their families and held incommunicado. Two boys detained in the boys’ cell told Amnesty that they weren’t allowed out of the cell except to be counted by soldiers. One boy told Amnesty: “It is hunger and thirst and the heat – these are the main problems.” The other boy confirmed: “The food was not enough. There was very little food.”
Children under five years old, including babies, have been held in three overcrowded women’s cells, with unsanitary conditions meaning that disease is rife. In the last year there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of detainees in these cells, rising from 25 last year to 250 in early 2016. Amnesty understands that there are around 20 babies and children under five in each of the three cells. The detention of young children and babies at Giwa barracks is no secret, evidenced by several mass public releases of detainees. On 12 February, at a release ceremony for 275 Giwa detainees wrongly held on “suspicion of being involved in terrorist or insurgent activities,” Major General Hassan Umaru said that among those released were “142 males, 49 females, 22 under-aged, 50 children of cleared females.” According to military statements, media reports and witness statements, the military has released at least 162 children since last July.
Amnesty pointed out that released detainees are likely to face stigma as a result of their detention and urged the Nigerian authorities to establish mechanisms to ensure the safety and well-being of former detainees, especially children.
Amnesty International’s Africa Research and Advocacy Director Netsanet Belay said:
“The discovery that babies and young children have died in appalling conditions in military detention is both harrowing and horrifying.
“We have repeatedly sounded the alarm over the high death rate of detainees in Giwa barracks but these findings show that, for both adults and children, it remains a place of death.
“Deaths of detainees in north-east Nigeria are nothing new. But as overcrowding increases so does the number of emaciated corpses emerging from Giwa barracks, with babies and young children among the dead.
“Almost a year after our findings revealed that huge numbers had died in detention, it is now time for President Buhari to uphold his pledge to launch an urgent investigation into these deaths, release the children and shut down Giwa barracks detention centre without delay.
“Faced with an enemy as brutal as Boko Haram a key challenge for the Nigerian military is to defeat them whilst still fullyrespecting human rights and the rule of law. This is a challenge that they seem to be failing.”
Bodies disposed of by rubbish trucks
A former detainee told Amnesty: “In the morning they open the cell and take the urine and stool [buckets] outside. Next the coffin [corpses] will be taken outside.” Bodies of the Giwa dead have were taken to a mortuary in Maiduguri and from there Borno State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA) personnel have taken them in rubbish trucks for burial in unmarked mass graves in Gwange cemetery. One witness told Amnesty that since November a BOSEPA rubbish truck has visited the cemetery two or three times a week, where staff bury the bodies separate from the public area of the cemetery. Photos taken inside the cemetery show recently-dug graves in the area visited by the BOESPA workers, whiles satellite images taken on November and March show disturbed earth in this location.
Horror of the men’s cells
According to witness testimony, conditions are worst in the men’s cells and at least 136 men have died in detention in Giwa so far in 2016, including 28 men who appeared to have gunshot wounds. One 38-year-old man who recently spent four months in Giwa told Amnesty that inmates received about half a litre of water per day and “There is a small plastic bowl for food. People use it for small children. It is just that for each meal.” Another man, recently released after five months in the barracks, told Amnesty: “There is no mat inside so you sleep on the floor. It is very congested. You can lie down, but only on your side and you cannot turn from one side to the other.”
Disease and overcrowding rife
Detainees have no washing facilities, their cells are rarely cleaned and disease is rife. Another former inmate said: “No-one has a shirt so you can count the ribs of their body. There is no cleaning, so you live in disease. It is like a toilet. Me and my brother were sick inside the cell. Diarrhoea was common.” Despite steps to improve conditions in Giwa in 2014 and 2015 – with detainees receiving food three times a day as well as blankets, sleeping mats and increased access to sanitary facilities and medical assistance – recent mass arrests appear to have erased some of these gains and death rates are increasing.
Nigerian authorities failing to act despite longstanding concerns
Concerns about conditions in Giwa barracks and other military detention facilities have been raised since 2013. Last June, an Amnesty report revealed that 7,000 detainees had died in military detention in Nigeria since 2011 as a result of starvation, thirst, disease, torture and a lack of medical attention. The report revealed that in 2013, more than 4,700 bodies were brought to a mortuary from Giwa barracks. In February 2016, the Chief of Army Staff told Amnesty that conditions in military detention were significantly better than documented in Amnesty’s report. He stated that Giwa barracks and other military detention facilities in the north-east are “holding centres” and suspects are rapidly transferred to a detention facility outside the north-east.
Amnesty wrote to the Chief of Army Staff on 12 April, requesting a response to its latest evidence and further information on deaths in detention. On 20 April the Chief of Army Staff replied, directing Amnesty to the office of Nigeria’s Attorney General, while providing no response to evidence raised in the letter. Amnesty wrote to the Attorney General and Chief of Defence Staff on 27 April; no response has been received to date.

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Neil Durkin

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