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UN human rights chief says new approach needed to halt cycle of violence in Nigeria

GENEVA (9 March 2010) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Tuesday that she was appalled by the latest massacre of hundreds of villagers in the region around Jos in northern Nigeria, and urged the national and local authorities to make a concerted effort to tackle the complex underlying causes of the tension and violence in the region.

The High Commissioner extended her deepest sympathy to the families of the dead and to the wounded from both this weekend’s attacks, which some reports suggest may have killed as many as 500 people in three mainly Christian Berom villages, and the earlier attacks in January which also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in the Jos region, mostly from the predominantly Muslim Hausa Fulana people.

“In both cases, women and children and elderly people were among those who were viciously slaughtered,” Pillay said. “After the January killings, the villages should have been properly protected.”

The High Commissioner noted the efforts of the authorities to put in place a comprehensive security strategy. “Better security is clearly vital,” she said, “but it would be a mistake to paint this purely as sectarian or ethnic violence, and to treat it solely as a security issue. What is most needed is a concerted effort to tackle the underlying causes of the repeated outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence which Nigeria has witnessed in recent years, namely discrimination, poverty and disputes over land. The Government needs to address these issues head-on.”

Pillay also noted allegations that local politicians may have exploited socio-economic, ethnic and religious divisions. “This is an aspect that needs be scrutinized, and if necessary acted upon, if further bouts of violence are to be deterred,” she said.

The High Commissioner stressed that it was essential that the forces of law and order in the Jos region act in a visibly even-handed fashion, and that justice is seen to be done by all sides.

“The job facing the security forces and the judiciary is extremely sensitive,” she said. “It is important to avoid stimulating new resentments, while at the same time ensuring that those responsible for these atrocious acts do not escape justice. This is the third round of deadly violence in the Jos region in three years, leading to a total number of deaths that may exceed 1,000. Clearly, previous efforts to tackle the underlying causes have been inadequate, and in the meantime the wounds have festered and grown deeper.”