Human rights groups are putting pressure on the Nigerian Government to ensure the prompt investigation into a massacre in which hundreds of Christians are believed to have been killed earlier this month.

Human rights organisations Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Human Rights Watch are among those who have called on the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, to ensure the perpetrators of the violence are prosecuted and that citizens of all ethnicities are protected from further attacks or reprisal killings. 

The latest killings in Nigeria’s Plateau State – which also drew calls from US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for the perpetrators to be prosecuted - took place in the early hours of 7th March when, according to Human Rights Watch, “groups of men armed with guns, machetes, and knives attacked residents of the villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zot, and Ratsat, 10 kilometres south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State”. The organisation said the dead included “scores of women and children”.

The death toll from the attack is believed to be in the hundreds with some sources putting it as high as 500.

The Archbishop of Jos, Rev Benjamin Kwashi, has told the UK’s Channel 4 that the attack was quite systematic and quite well organised”. “It didn't leave the villagers with any chance to escape at all,” he said. 

While some have said the attack in Jos came in retaliation for previous attacks on Muslim communities and the theft of cattle, others – including Christian leaders and several human rights groups – have forcefully disputed the claims, saying that the earlier violence was sparked when a church was attacked.

Meanwhile, thousands of women dressed in black have marched through the streets of Jos “to mourn, pray and protest” against the most recent killings.

The women, survivors of the recent violence, carried Bibles, pictures of victims, and branches “symbolising peace”, as they walked from the headquarters of the Evangelical Church of West Africa to the Plateau State House of Assembly for talks with the parliament speaker last week.

Christian pastor Esther Ebanga reportedly told the women: "Enough is enough. All we are asking is that our children and women should not be killed any more. We demand justice."

They later took their grievances to the governor's residence. A simultaneous protest was held in the Nigerian capital Abuja, where hundreds of women marched to the parliament for talks with officials, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

CSW said the protesters condemned "the brutal killing of unsuspecting women, children and babies on the flimsiest excuse and at the slightest pretext of grievance."

The protesting women also asked for the release of youths who they claimed “were unfairly” detained in connection with the violence and called for troops to leave, saying that the army had not stopped the massacre and claiming that, in at least some cases, they had participated in it.

The women demanded that soldiers involved in "the extra judicial killing of civilians" should be prosecuted, and demanded the removal of senior army officers.

In Australia, Jim Wallace, the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, urged the Federal Government to join with other nations – including the US – for the perpetrators of the violence to be brought to justice and to work with the international community to ensure such violence is not repeated.

“The accounts of women and children being hacked to death with knives and machetes would sicken anyone. However this is clearly a cycle of violence that will be repeated unless the international community – including Australia – takes greater action,” Mr Wallace said. 

“The Federal Government also needs to be more vocal in promoting the cause of persecuted people groups in other countries – such as the Coptics in Egypt, and the Mandaeans and Christians in Iraq. As a leading influence in the international community, Australia should not be silent in speaking out against gross human rights violations.” 

Human Rights Watch says that more than 13,500 people have died in religious and ethnic clashes since Nigeria saw the end of military rule in 1999. 

The clashes have included an outbreak of violence in Jos in which as many as 1,000 people were killed in September 2001, clashes in which 700 were killed in the town of Yelwa in May 2004 and a further outbreak of violence which claimed at least 700 more lives in Jos in November, 2008.

Human Rights Watch claims to have documented 133 cases of unlawful killing by members of the security forces following the 2008 violence.

- with reports from BosNewsLife and Assist News Service.