A human rights advocacy group, Access to Justice, has called on the Chiefs of Army and Defence Staff to step aside to allow an impartial investigation into allegations of war crimes levelled against the Nigerian military in a new report by Amnesty International.
In a statement Sunday, the group called on Alex Badeh and Kenneth Minimah, the Chiefs of Defence and Army Staff respectively to immediately step down from office or proceed on compulsory leave to make way for investigations into the allegations contained in the AI report.
“All the serving military officers named in the AI report (must) proceed on compulsory leave from their current duties to safeguard against risks of interference with any investigations that would be conducted into the allegations,” Access to Justice said in the statement signed by Joseph Otteh and Jessica Imuekemhe, Executive Director and Programme Officer respectively.
On June 3, 2015, Amnesty International released its report titled: ‘Stars on their shoulder. Blood on their hands’, accusing the Nigerian military of committing war crimes in the course of its counter-terrorism operations against Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria.
The report alleges that the Nigerian military had committed countless acts of torture, extra-judicially executed more than 1,200 people, and arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, which included mostly young men and boys.
The report also said many Nigerians had become victims of enforced disappearance and at least 7,000 people died in military detention.
The Nigerian Defence Headquarters, however, had dismissed the report as “concocted” and “biased”.
“It is clear that Amnesty International becomes more active in presenting distractive allegations whenever the terrorists are losing ground in the battle,” said Chris Olukolade, Director of Defence Information.
“It is very unfortunate that Amnesty International has used this report to further confirm its questionable interest in the counter-terrorism effort in Nigeria.”
Access to Justice said the allegations in the report, if true, “grievously” contravened international treaties binding on Nigeria. It further noted that the failure of the Nigerian government to investigate the allegations in the report will be tantamount to breaching its international obligations.
“The war against terrorism is no excuse for the horrendous slaughter and wilful killing of persons who have not been determined to have any links to terror or terrorist organizations,” said the group.
“A war strategy that fails to uphold internationally recognized rules of engagement, or that systematically ensures the death of captured persons is pernicious, atrocious and flawed, and creates serious legal liabilities for those who fashion or implement it.
“It should be recalled that the violations of human rights by Nigerian military operatives in the campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency has been counter-productive to Nigeria’s efforts to contain the insurgency as a number of potential allies have held back their support following reports of large-scale atrocities being committed by the military in counter-terrorism operations.” The latest AI report comes on the heels of previous reports featuring similar allegations against the Nigerian military.
After AI’s report of August 2014, Access to Justice, along with 8 other organizations filed a civil action for a court order mandating the federal government to undertake thorough, impartial investigations into the allegations of war crimes levied against military operatives after the Jonathan administration refused to provide evidence that it investigated those reports.
The suit is still pending in the Federal High Court in the FCT.
“We now demand, again, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into the latest set of allegations made by AI,” Mr. Otteh said.
“We are happy to note that the Buhari administration is studying the report; however the government needs to move quickly to constitute a prompt, impartial and effective inquiry into now before vital evidence is destroyed or compromised.
“A2Justice urges President Buhari to bring about real democratic ‘change’ in the conduct of military counter-terrorism operations and ensure that Nigeria abides by its national and international obligations to protect and respect human rights and comply with internationally binding rules of warfare.
“This will improve Nigeria’s standing and brighten prospects of winning international support to defeat the scourge of terrorism; we also urge President Buhari to ensure that impunity by security and law enforcement agencies, which is often implicated in the conduct of a vast range of security and law enforcement operations in Nigeria is fought and stamped out with relentless determination and vigour.”