Amnesty International (AI) report has revealed an alarming increase in death rate of children, babies and adults in the Nigeria Military detention camp for suspected Boko Haram members in the northeast.
According to the human rights group, evidence gathered through interviews with former detainees and eyewitnesses telling of the appalling conditions as well as video and photos, shows many detainees may have died from disease, hunger, dehydration, and gunshots wounds.
They disclosed that 149 people – including at least 12 children and babies since February 2016 alone – have died in detention at the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, according to a report published on Wednesday May 11. These children have been held in three overcrowded women’s cells.
One witness told Amnesty International that 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.
The barracks is holding an estimated 1,200 people, including 250 women and girls, in cramped cells with one communal bucket provided for faeces and one for urine, according to Amnesty.
Amnesty International insisted “the detention facilities in Giwa barracks must be shut down immediately and all detainees released or transferred to civilian authorities.”
“The government must urgently introduce systems to ensure the safety and well-being of children released from detention.”
Many were arbitrarily rounded up during mass arrests, often with no evidence against them. Once inside the barracks, they are incarcerated without access to the outside world or trial. At least 120 of those detained are children, says Amnesty International report.
They interview a 40-year old eye witness who describe the spread of disease due to unsanitary condition, she said:
“Measles started when hot season started. In the morning, two or three [were ill], by the evening five babies [were ill]. You will see the fever, the [baby’s] 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.
“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.”
Others described the conditions of detention as: “It is hunger and thirst and the heat – these are the main problems.”
A boy detained in the same cell confirmed: “The food was not enough. There was very little food.”
Amnesty International also discovered that at least 136 men have died in detention in Giwa in 2016 including 28 men who appeared to have gunshot wounds.
Photographic and video evidence of emaciated corpses of 11 men and the body of child under two years old has been forensically analysed by an independent expert. A former detainee told AI:
“In the morning they open the cell and take the urine and stool [buckets] outside. Next the coffin [corpses] will be taken outside.”
These corpses they say, are taken to a mortuary in Maiduguri and from there Borno State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA) personnel takes them in rubbish trucks for burial in unmarked mass graves in the Gwange cemetery.
Different testimonies confirms that conditions were worst in the men’s cells. Two former detainees who spent 4-5 months in Giwa in 2016 said that inmates received about half a litre of water per day.
“There is a small plastic bowl for food. People use it for small children. It is just that for each meal. 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.
“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.”
Amnesty International concluded that released detainees are likely to face stigma as a result of their detention. The government must therefore urgently establish mechanisms to ensure the safety and well-being of former detainees, especially children.