A Joint Military Task Force (JTF) soldier positions his rifle on sand bags on the road in northeastern Nigerian town of Maiduguri, Borno State, April 30, 2013. — Photo by AFP
LAGOS: Human Rights Watch on Wednesday released satellite images showing massive destruction in the Nigerian town of Baga, voicing concern that the military has “tried to cover up” abuses that should be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
The clashes between soldiers and Boko Haram Islamists sparked massive fires that left nearly half the town destroyed.
The Red Cross has said that 187 people were killed in the fighting, while an area senator put the death toll at 228.
The military has pushed back aggressively against these reports and fiercely denied claims that soldiers fired on civilians or deliberately torched scores of homes.
After meeting with senior military officials tasked with probing the carnage, President Goodluck Jonathan said Tuesday that “there is a lot of misinformation being peddled about the situation”.
He said the reported death tolls “cannot be substantiated”, and said it was impossible that more than 1,000 homes were destroyed.
“Satellite images of the town analysed by Human Rights Watch...identify 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority likely residences, with another 125 severely damaged,” the rights group said in a statement Wednesday.
On its website, it posted images depicting aerial shots of the town on April 6 against those of the same neighbourhoods on April 26, 10 days after the clashes.
The before-and-after images appear to show scores of newly burnt buildings.
“The glaring discrepancies between the facts on the ground and statements by senior military officials raise concerns that they tried to cover up military abuses,” the group added.
Human Rights Watch further called on the International Criminal Court to probe the events in Baga as part of the preliminary investigation the court launched in 2010.
The group has previously said that Nigeria's military may have committed crimes against humanity in campaigns against Boko Haram since the insurgency started in 2009.
“The incident in Baga should be added to the prosecutor's preliminary investigation,” HRW said.
The group also offered a new death toll for the Boko Haram conflict, saying 3,600 people have lost their lives since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
A previous toll last year said the insurgency had cost 3,000 lives.