LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian human rights group said Sunday it is asking the International Criminal Court to urgently investigate the killings of schoolchildren and teachers by suspected Islamic militants in northeast Nigeria as crimes against humanity.
The petition from the Socio-Economic and Rights Accountability Project comes a week after attackers gunned down at least 43 students at an agricultural college. They also torched several classrooms.
"Most children no longer go to school ... due to the fear of teachers and students being killed" in northeast Nigeria, said the petition signed by the organization's executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni.
The Boko Haram terrorist network — its name means "Western education is forbidden" — is accused of killing hundreds of civilians including schoolchildren sitting for examinations in stepped-up attacks that defy a massive military crackdown on their strongholds. The group has claimed many school attacks but has made no statement claiming recent assaults.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency May 14 in three states covering one-sixth of the country where he said extremists had taken control of towns and villages. He deployed an emergency task force that includes soldiers, police, military intelligence, immigration and customs officials. The military campaign including punishing air bombardments quickly pushed the militants out of most towns, but into rocky and inaccessible hilly areas.
The military said it destroyed one camp in bombing raids last week and killed scores of suspected militants that it believed were responsible for the attack on the agricultural college. It said 15 suspects arrested after the air attacks are being interrogating and are providing information that could lead security forces to other camps.
Attacks have surged recently and Jonathan said last week he has asked the military to consider new strategies to defeat the Islamic uprising that began in 2009.
On Sept. 19, suspected Islamic militants disguised in military fatigues and in a convoy led by fighters firing from two tanks armed with anti-aircraft guns — apparently stolen from the army — killed at least 143 civilians, two soldiers and three police officers in an attack on a military outpost and nearby village. A Sept. 8 attack killed at least 17 people including members of a youth vigilante group set up to fight the militants. A pastor and his son and a village head were killed on Sept. 26 by attackers who also torched a church and several homes.
Most victims of attacks are Muslims. Boko Haram initially targeted government officials, Christian clergy and moderate Muslim clerics who spoke out against their fanaticism. This year's attacks have targeted schoolchildren, teachers and health workers on vaccination campaigns. But there have also been indiscriminate shootings and bombings that inevitably kill more Muslims in a part of the country that is predominantly Muslim.
Amnesty International on Friday urged Nigeria's government to provide better protection for schools. Officials of Yobe State College of Agriculture at Gubya told The Associated Press that there were no security forces at the school, though state officials had two weeks earlier urged schools to reopen and promised soldiers and police would protect them.
The London-based Amnesty International estimated scores of pupils and 70 teachers have been killed this year — some gunned down in their beds, others burnt alive in locked dormitories — and that 50 schools have been burned down or damaged and more than 60 others forced to close.
It called for Nigerian authorities to arrest and prosecute perpetrators. Hundreds of suspects have been arrested, according to officials, but Amnesty noted that none have been charged. The fate of hundreds of detainees is unknown.
The rights project said it sent its petition to the ICC on Friday saying "SERAP is seriously concerned that these attacks against schoolchildren, apart from constituting violations of the right to life and the right to education, may amount to crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute."
The court in The Hague said in August a preliminary investigation provided "reasonable basis" to believe Boko Haram has likely committed crimes against humanity including murder and persecution. But prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she would only move to a full-fledged investigation after further study and depending on whether Nigerian authorities are willing and able to prosecute "those who appear to bear the greatest responsibility."