More than 1,500 people have died so far this year in Nigeria as the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram battles security forces, with more than half of them civilians, Amnesty International said.
“The escalation of violence in northeastern Nigeria in 2014 has developed into a situation of non-international armed conflict in which all parties are violating international humanitarian law,” said Netsanet Belay, research and advocacy director for Africa at the London-based group, in a statement.
The death toll has more than doubled from the figure given by Amnesty of 600 people killed in January and February, as fighting in the northeast of Africa’s biggest oil producer intensified this month.
Boko Haram on March 14 raided the army’s Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, an attack which the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau said was meant to free 2,000 of his followers. A suicide bomber suspected to belong to the group killed at least eight people when he rammed a car laden with explosives into a police van in Maiduguri on March 25.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, has carried out a violent campaign since 2009 to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, a nation of about 170 million people which is broadly split between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Amnesty called for independent investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The international community cannot continue to look the other way in the face of extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and other crimes under international law being committed on a mass scale,” the organization said.
The conflict in the northeast is a key political issue as Nigeria approaches elections next year. President Goodluck Jonathan, who declared a state of emergency in three northeastern zones in May, has not said whether he’ll run for re-election.
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