Anger in military over Amnesty report
LAST Wednesday’s release of a damning report by Amnesty International alleging “horrific war crimes” by the Nigerian armed forces has sent shock waves within the military hierarchy.
This is because any of the military officials indicted may end up at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, The Netherlands.
The military was getting used to the periodic allegations of human rights abuses by Amnesty International, but to now face allegations of war crimes, including murder of 8,000 people, starving, suffocating and torturing others to death set off alarm bells .
There has been anxiety in many quarters as to how the report would be handled by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Amnesty International’s report
Indeed, the accusations are grievous.
Amnesty said in its 133-page report titled: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands- War crimes committed by the Nigerian military – that since March 2011, more than 7,000 young men and boys died in military detention and more than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed since February 2012.
It said it can vouch for the authenticity of the report based on years of research and analyses of evidence including leaked military reports and correspondence, interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses and senior members of the Nigerian security forces.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Mr. Salil Shetty, in the report outlined the roles and possible criminal responsibilities of those along the chain of command – up to the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff, submitting that “this sickening evidence exposes how thousands of young men and boys have been arbitrarily arrested and deliberately killed or left to die in detention in the most horrific conditions.
It is also about the responsibility of Nigeria’s leadership to act decisively to end the pervasive culture of impunity within the armed forces.”
Shetty then listed the war crimes to include alleged mass deaths in custody, starvation, dehydration and disease, overcrowding and suffocation, fumigation, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Amnesty also claimed that high level military commanders knew of the crimes.
The body then charged: “Despite being informed of the death rates and conditions of detention, Nigerian military officials consistently failed to take meaningful action.
Those in charge of detention facilities, as well as their commanders at Army and Defence headquarters, must be investigated.
For years the Nigerian authorities have downplayed accusations of human rights abuses by the military. But they cannot dismiss their own internal military documents.
They cannot ignore testimonies from witnesses and high-ranking military whistle blowers. And they cannot deny the existence of emaciated and mutilated bodies piled on mortuary slabs and dumped in mass graves.
“We call on newly-elected President Buhari to end the culture of impunity that has blighted Nigeria and for the African Union and international community to encourage and support these efforts. As a matter of urgency, the President must launch an immediate and impartial investigation into the crimes detailed in Amnesty International’s report and hold all those responsible to account, no matter their rank or position. Only then can there be justice for the dead and their relatives.”
In September last year, Amnesty released similar report, indicting the military and police for brutal torture and extra judicial killing of Nigerians including children held in their custody. It also said between 5,000 and 10,000 Nigerians have been detained since 2009.
To add to the Amnesty pressure, the United States accused Nigeria of extensive human rights abuses in its fight against Boko Haram and says its laws forbid arms transaction with any country so accused.
Amnesty International’s report is certain to complicate efforts at resolving the issues to allow Nigeria obtain military support and equipment. The 62-page report, presented by Nicola Duckworth last September was titled: “Welcome to Hell Fire’ Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Nigeria.”
There were vehement denials by the military and Police who were joined by some Nigerians and groups in accusing Amnesty of seeing only the alleged atrocities of the Nigerian military and other security agencies.
Amnesty then released another report in February 2015 stating that it has evidence and reasonable belief that Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian military have committed crimes under international law in the context of the conflict in North-East Nigeria.
Amnesty in a written statement to the 28th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council said the Nigerian security forces in its response to Boko Haram had committed serious human right violations, claiming it had evidence to suggest Nigeria’s military had also committed war crimes.
It then added its concern on the “deaths of more than one thousand suspects in military detention facilities as a result of extrajudicial executions, torture, starvation, disease, suffocation or other reasons associated with extremely poor conditions.”
Cashing in on the latest report by Amnesty, Joel Gillin, writing in the U.S. liberal magazine, The New Republic, stated that with the new war crimes allegations, the United States should think twice about deeper military ties with Nigeria.
Gillin slammed his country for planning to send a team to Nigeria to work more closely and coordinate in the Nigeria’s battle against Boko Haram, which is a sign of good faith in warming relationship with Nigeria’s new President.
According to him: “The timing is unfortunate. Although it’s wrong-headed, perhaps the deeper co-mingling of the U.S. and Nigeria makes a certain morbid sense. In the name of fighting terrorism, both countries severely overreacted, committing serious war crimes that are likely to go unpunished. While some of us may hope to see Nigerian officials tried in the International Criminal Court, as Amnesty International has called for, we have also grown used to impunity in the War on Terror excesses, as even U.S. officials who admit to their crimes remain free.”
But generally, Amnesty’s latest assessment of the military did not go down well with Nigerians.
Military shocked over report, asks: ‘What is Amnesty’s hidden agenda?’
As a source confided to The Guardian: “I don’t know whether Nigerians actually know the implications of this report. The accusations and its ramifications go beyond the normal tour of duty. Commanders on the field will now have to worry if they are free to do this job of containing Boko Haram without these unending accusations. We are at a loss as to where this leads us now. Imagine you are on the frontlines of the war against Boko Haram and you get the news of this, how will you feel?
“Let’s keep aside the basics of the accusations.
It leaves you wondering if you are still free to do your job without unsubstantiated accusations hanging over our heads. How would the officers mentioned feel now? Do Nigerians really know what we go through in the frontlines? Do Nigerians know the implications of this report vis-à-vis the fight against Boko Haram? How will it affect morale of commanders and troops in the battlefield? Would it not look like tying the hands of military commanders, tying their hands while allowing terrorists free rein in their murderous violence?
“Why is Amnesty not involved in commenting on conduct of military operations in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan the way it has always focused on Nigeria? Why would it not devote just one of these reports on the atrocities and mindless violence of Boko Haram? What is Amnesty’s or Western nations’ interest in Nigerian military? Are these reports a ploy to humiliate or weaken the resolve of military commanders or a concerted script to act out a pre-conceived script? Seriously, it looks like Amnesty has become an extension of the programmes of some Western countries who could not see any achievement by the Nigerian military except as feats possible only through alleged human rights abuses.
“But we know that there are elements within and outside Nigeria who are bent on weakening the military, especially the Army, in order to foist their own agenda on Nigeria? There are many organisations working in Nigeria and empowered solely to collate any information on the Nigerian Army that is negative. And any such information is usually paid for. These are Boko Haram sympathisers masquerading as human rights groups.
“Are you aware that some of these reports given or acted and released by Amnesty were stage-managed, aimed at tarnishing the image of the Army and its high command? I think it is high time we realised that what we have is a Nigerian Army, a Nigerian Navy and a Nigerian Air Force.
This means they are owned by Nigerians and the war they are fighting in the North East is their war and the earlier Nigerians own up and ask outsiders and their local collaborators to leave us alone, the better for all of us.
It also should make you wonder why this report is coming at the same time there is intense lobby by some influential Nigerians and their foreign collaborators to grant unfettered amnesty to all Boko Haram fighters.”
Immediately the report was released, radio shows and commentators on the social media took the Amnesty International to task, demanding to know why it was in the habit of condemning the military which have been trying to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria from Boko Haram, while completely ignoring “the unspeakable human rights violations and crimes against humanity” committed by the terror group.
Defence spokesman, Maj-Gen Chris Olukolade released a statement saying that “the Defence Headquarters has noted with dismay the gruesome allegations made by Amnesty International against some senior military officers, serving and retired , of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
“It is unfortunate that all effort made in the allegation was geared towards continuation of blackmail against the military hierarchy in which the organisation had embarked upon as far back as the inception of military’s action against terrorists in the North East. The officers mentioned in the report have no reason, whatsoever, to indulge in the allegation made against them. It is unfortunate that the organisation just went out to gather names of specified senior officers, in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the military. The action, no doubt, depicts more of a premeditated indictment aimed at discrediting the country for whatever purpose.
“Each of the previous allegations had been thoroughly responded to and cleared in the public and officially. From the title down to the body of the allegation , smacks of extreme bias, which is disturbing, coming from an otherwise reputable organisation that is expected to be just and fair to all. Unfortunately in this case, it has taken a premeditated position, which is far from noble.
It is curious that a body that has never been able to seriously condemn terror in Nigeria now claims to have done an extensive research with the aim of discrediting the nation’s effort at curtailing terror.
“It is clear that Amnesty International (AI) becomes more active in presenting distractive allegations whenever the terrorists are losing ground in the battle. It is very unfortunate that Amnesty International has used this report to further confirm its questionable interest in the counter-terrorism effort in Nigeria.
“It will be recalled that the Joint Investigation Team was set up by the Defence Headquarters as part of efforts to ensure that no detainees suffer unjustly. The detention facilities were thrown open for visits and inspections by independent bodies such as International Committee of the Red Cross and other reputable international organisations and personalities.
“Amnesty International is advised to stand remaining silent or complacent whenever the terrorists heighten their atrocities.
It is unfair to persist in efforts to discredit Nigerian military by seeking to stigmatise individual officers of the nation’s military purely to satisfy an agenda against the security agencies and image of Nigeria before the international community. The Nigerian Armed Forces is quite conscious of the fact that the operation has prompted the need to save citizens from abuse of their rights by mindless terrorists.
Accordingly, the forces have continued to state and restate its commitment to the rights of Nigerians and all its citizens while prosecuting its anti-terrorism campaign. It is very unfortunate that Amnesty International has chosen to ignore all the responses and clarifications provided to its enquires by the authorities.
“It is unfair to rely on records or reports provided by certain disgruntled elements or faceless collaborators who have axe to grind with the system as evidence against officers who have been conscientiously doing their duty to defend the nation and her citizens.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Nigerian military does not encourage or condone abuse of human rights neither will any proven case be left unpunished.
The kind of impunity being alleged by Amnesty International has no place in the Nigerian military. Every officer in the field is responsible for his action and is duly held accountable. So far, no allegation has been sufficiently proved against those whom Amnesty International is so desperate to convict.
“The statistics spurious, manipulated to satisfy a clandestine motive.
Indeed, the loud publicity given to these damning allegations suggests an intention to blackmail the military and particular senior officers rather than a sincere advice to the government.
This cruel tendency is not new, despite the timing. The Nigerian military therefore rejects the biased and concocted report provided by Amnesty International. ”
Nigerian Human Rights Group, HURIWA faults Amnesty International report
Meanwhile, Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) has taken strong exception to the sweeping indictment of war crimes against the military leaders.
Faulting the conclusions drawn by Amnesty International, HURIWA maintained the position of the London-based body remains nebulous and fundamentally defective, questioning the timing of the release of “this jaundiced report by Amnesty International at this exact period that the new government has vowed to commit more forces to militarily defeat these armed terrorists responsible for the mass killings of over 15,000 innocent Nigerians since three years now.
Who is Amnesty International working for? Why is Amnesty International just releasing this report exactly at this time that the Federal Government has stated a renewed resolve to crush Boko Haram and why is Amnesty International intervening and interjecting with this one- sided and substantially hearsay-evidence based report just few days after some suspected political sympathisers in the North under some contraption of Northern Elders had called for amnesty to be given to Boko Haram?
“Is it possible that elements within Boko Haram have infiltrated Amnesty International? Why did Amnesty International not exhaust local judicial and internal mechanisms before submitting this one sided report to the International Crime Court when the Rome Statutes clearly recognised the sovereign powers of local jurisdictions of nations to handle matters of alleged violations of rights of citizens during armed conflicts?
Why is Amnesty International naming top Nigerian military generals for indictment for alleged offences committed by field operatives when there are abundant precedents in USA whereby soldiers who allegedly committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan were individually tried and convicted in the United States even as no American Military Generals were prosecuted for alleged offences of their subordinates? This is rascally and smacks of racism on the part of Amnesty International thereby rendering this report a hogwash and invalid.”
Continuing, HURIWA noted: “We know that judicial experts have clearly enunciated the doctrine of command responsibility.
First, it is not a form of objective liability whereby a superior could be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by subordinates of the accused regardless of his conduct and regardless of what his knowledge of these crimes.
“Nor is it a form of complicity whereby the superior is held criminally responsible for some sort of assistance that he has given to the principal perpetrators. Instead, superior responsibility is a form of responsibility for omission to act: a superior may be held criminally responsible under that doctrine where, despite his awareness of the crimes of subordinates, he culpably fails to fulfill his duties to prevent and punish these crimes.
“We agree with the conclusions of the Peace and Justice initiative on the doctrine of command responsibility that: “commission of one or more crimes attributable to a subordinate is a pre-requisite for the application of that doctrine. In addition, the following requirements have been identified as forming part of the doctrine of superior responsibility under customary international law: A relationship of superior-subordinate linking the accused and those who committed the underlying offences at the time of the commission of the crime; The knowledge on the part of the superior that his subordinates have committed or taken a culpable part in the commission of a crime or are about to do so; and a failure on the part of the superior to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or to punish those crimes.”
But what got many in the Defence sector worried was the seeming indifference or silence by any Federal Government official or department as no one rose to defend the honour and integrity of the military. Many wondered if this was an official position until Buhari, who the military could run to for cover as the Commander-in-Chief, released a statement through his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu late Wednesday from Niger capital, Niamey.