(AA) – More than 1,000 people have been killed in violence related to the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s northeastern region since the beginning of this year, a global rights watchdog said Thursday.
“Attacks by the Islamist armed group Boko Haram killed more than 1,000 civilians in 2015 based on witness accounts and an analysis of media reports,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report.
“Boko Haram fighters have deliberately attacked villages and committed mass killings and abductions, as their attacks have spread from northeast Nigeria into Cameroon, Chad and Niger since February,” it added.
The report said the death toll was higher than that of the same period last year, when the militants went from hit-and-run attacks to outright annexation of towns and villages.
“During 2014, HRW estimates that at least 3,750 civilians died during Boko Haram attacks in these areas,” it noted.
“Attacks in the first quarter of 2015 have increased compared to the same period in 2014, including seven suicide bombings allegedly using women and children,” the rights group added.
Nigeria is fighting a six-year Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced over one million people from the northeastern region, where the militants have been the most ruthless.
Last year, Boko Haram went from attacking communities and planting bombs to capturing entire towns.
In mid-2014, the group declared a self-styled “Islamic caliphate” in areas seized in the northeastern Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
All but two major local government areas hitherto controlled by the militants have since been liberated by the army, however, in operations that have also involved troops from neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
The rights group criticized militant attacks on soft targets and the Nigerian army’s use of schools as military bases.
“Displaced people described the targeted burning of schools by Boko Haram, and a few instances in which government forces took over schools,” it said.
“Deliberate attacks on schools and other civilian structures not being used for military purposes are war crimes,” HRW asserted.
“War crimes by Boko Haram should be properly investigated and the perpetrators held to account in fair trials,” it added.
According to HRW researchers, Nigerian security forces have failed to take all possible precautions to protect civilians while conducting military operations against Boko Haram.
The report also lamented abuses by army troops in areas they are supposed to protect.
It called on the government to investigate all such allegations, including purported military attacks on Mundu village in northeastern Bauchi State last year, during which civilians were killed and rendered homeless.
“Nigerian authorities should ensure that the December 6 attack on Mundu is effectively investigated and that any military personnel, including commanders, responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes are held to account,” HRW insisted.
The watchdog went on to warn: “Without a stronger effort to protect civilians and accountability for abuses, the situation can only get worse.”