Nigeria: Rights group, US call for inquiry, credible prosecutions after religious violence

By Jon Gambrell, AP
Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nigeria: Calls for inquiry into religious violence

JOS, Nigeria — The U.S. government and an international human rights group called Tuesday for Nigeria to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the deaths of more than 200 unarmed people in renewed violence between Christians and Muslims.

Human Rights Watch also asked Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to provide police and military protection for those in the small villages surrounding Jos, a central Nigerian city that has become the fault line for religious violence in the region. Those who survived attacks Sunday in three mostly Christian villages to Jos’ south said security forces never provided them any guards, even though Jos itself has remained under a dusk-til-dawn curfew since violence in January left more than 300 dead, most of them Muslims.

“It’s time to draw a line in the sand,” Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka said in a statement Tuesday. “The authorities need to protect these communities, bring the perpetrators to book and address the root causes of violence.”

Police say they’ve arrested more than 90 people suspected of inciting the violence. Survivors said the attackers spoke Hausa and Fulani, two languages used mostly by Muslims. Some described the violence as a reprisal attack for the Muslim deaths in January, while others said Fulani cattlemen wanted to take over their land on the dusty plateau.

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, also issued a statement calling on Nigeria’s federal government to seek justice “under the rule of law and in a transparent manner,” the embassy said.

The U.S. also asked the state government to “to ensure that all people and citizens in the Jos area feel that they are respected and protected.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that she was appalled by the violence.

“In both cases, women and children and elderly people were among those who were viciously slaughtered,” Pillay said. “After the January killings, the villages should have been properly protected.”

“Clearly, previous efforts to tackle the underlying causes have been inadequate, and in the meantime the wounds have festered and grown deeper,” she said.

Jonathan traveled to Jos after the violence in January, and promised that the fighting would stop. After the recent flare-up, the acting president fired his national security adviser late Monday night.

Jonathan also said security forces would lock down the borders of Plateau state to stop weapons and potential fighters from infiltrating the region. But on Monday, an Associated Press reporter passed through seven supposed checkpoints where searches should have been conducted and none were. Some posts were unmanned, while police and soldiers at others merely watched a line of cars pass by without stopping them.

The killings Sunday add to the tally of thousands who have already perished in Africa’s most populous country in the last decade due to religious and political frictions. Rioting in September 2001 killed more than 1,000 people. Muslim-Christian battles killed up to 700 people in 2004. More than 300 residents died during a similar uprising in 2008.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. The recent bloodshed has been happening in central Nigeria, in towns which lie along the country’s religious fault line. It is Nigeria’s “middle belt,” where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.

Associated Press Writers Ahmed Saka in Jos, Nigeria; Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria; and Jude Owuamanam in Dogo Nahawa, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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