Babies and children are among more than 100 people to have died in detention this year in a military barracks in northeast Nigeria where suspected Boko Haram members are being held, often without any evidence, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Around 1 200 people, one in 10 of whom are children, are being detained at Giwa barracks in the city of Maiduguri, where they are kept in dirty, overcrowded cells without enough food or water and denied access to legal aid or a trial, Amnesty said.
Some 150 people, including seven young children and four babies, have died this year in Giwa barracks, many from disease, hunger, dehydration, and gunshots wounds, according to Amnesty.
Nigerian government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Former detainees told Amnesty that inmates received half a litre of water each day, lacked access to washing facilities, and slept on the floor in cells that were rarely cleaned.
“People are detained, often with their children, in appalling conditions which do not meet basic human rights, or keep them alive,” Amnesty’s Nigeria researcher Daniel Eyre said.
A regional offensive last year drove Boko Haram from much of the territory it held in northern Nigeria, undermining its seven-year campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate.
Young men suspected of fighting for the militants are being rounded up in mass arrests – often without any evidence against them – by the military as they return to their homes in towns and villages previously held by Boko Haram, Amnesty said.
The number of children and women being detained in Giwa has increased ten-fold – 250 this year up from 25 last year – amid a spike in the use of female suicide bombers by the militant group to carry out attacks and raids, according to the rights group.
“Once detained, there is scant investigation, no opportunity to contest the legality of their detention and no access to legal aid … people are relying on the military to determine their innocence,” Eyre told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Some 7 000 detainees have died in military detention in Nigeria since 2011 as a result of starvation, thirst, disease, torture and a lack of medical attention, Amnesty said last year.
The rights group urged Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to uphold his promise to investigate the deaths, release the children in detention and shut down Giwa barracks immediately.
The United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) said it was concerned by the situation in Giwa, adding that UN conventions state that children should only be detained as a last resort.