UN rights chief calls for new approach to end cycle of violence in Nigeria

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9 March - The United Nations human rights chief said today she was appalled by the latest “massacre” of hundreds of villagers in northern Nigeria, and called for authorities to tackle the underlying causes of the tension in the region.

As many as 500 people in the area around the city of Jos may have been killed last weekend during the latest wave of clashes between Christians and Muslims, which followed similar attacks in January and in November 2009.

“In both cases, women and children and elderly people were among those who were viciously slaughtered,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release. “After the January killings, the villages should have been properly protected.”

She stressed that better security is clearly vital, but added that it would be a mistake to think of the situation as simply 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,” she stated.

“The Government needs to address these issues head-on.”

Ms. Pillay 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.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking to reporters yesterday, called for all sides to exercise maximum restraint, and said the country's political and religious leaders should work together to address the underlying causes and to achieve a permanent solution to the crisis.