A new report released Thursday by Amnesty International details routine and often grotesque instances of torture by police and military authorities in Nigeria, some of it coming as part of the government's effort to combat the terrorist group Boko Haram.
The report is titled "Welcome to Hell Fire," and it depicts Nigerian police and military as largely lawless and corrupt, relying on mass torture to extract confessions, extort money or inflict punishment.
Amnesty documents a dozen different methods of torture used by the authorities in recent years, including beatings, rape, suspending by their feet or with a pipe or rod, choking, starvation, sitting on sharp objects and electric shock.
“This goes far beyond the appalling torture and killing of suspected Boko Haram members," Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International's research and advocacy director, said in a statement accompanying the report.
Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria’s women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer."
The report notes that Nigeria is a party to international human rights statutes prohibiting torture and that the practice is banned by its constitution, but lawmakers have yet to pass legislation explicitly making torture a crime.
"Torture is not even a criminal offense in Nigeria," Belay said.
The country’s parliament must immediately take this long overdue step and pass a law criminalizing torture. There is no excuse for further delay.”
The military and police have detained an estimated 5,000 people in the last five years as part of dragnets in its battle against Boko Haram, and the report says many of those have been tortured "or otherwise ill-treated."
The problem is not new in Nigeria, and the Amnesty study comes seven years after a United Nations report found that torture had become "an intrinsic part" of police operations and recommended legislation to make it a crime.
From the report:
Amnesty International found that torture and other ill-treatment are routine practice in criminal investigations across Nigeria. Suspects in police and military custody across the country are subjected to torture as punishment or to extract ‘confessions’ as a shortcut to 'solve' cases – particularly armed robbery and murder.
Amnesty International’s research found that police often detain people, sometimes in large dragnet operations, as a pretext to obtain bribes, alleging involvement in various offenses ranging from “wandering” (loitering) to robbery. Those who are unable to pay the bribes for their release are often tortured as punishment, or to coerce them to find the money for their release. They also risk being labelled as an “armed robber” and are then at further
risk of being tortured to extract a 'confession.' Suspects without money are also less likely to be able to access a lawyer, family members or medical treatment. Rape by police is a
common method of torture inflicted primarily on women. Sex workers and women believed to be sex workers are particularly targeted by the police either for financial bribes or rape."
The 64-page report opened with an interview of a man who said he was detained a year ago, tortured for several hours and then forced to eat his own blood mixed with sand.
It includes no photographs but rather depicts torture methods using an artist's rendering.