RE: THE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL 2017/2018 REPORT

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Amnesty International has just published a report titled: ‘THEY BETRAYED US’ WOMEN WHO SURVIVED BOKO HARAM RAPED, STARVED AND DETAINED IN NIGERIA”. The report alleges that the Nigerian military “has carried out systematic patterns of violence and abuse against this population, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity”. The allegations include rape in exchange for food. The Nigerian government, alongside the military, has dismissed the report before investigating the allegations. The Presidency through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, denounces the report as a “wild goose chase report”, saying the report “is short on credibility” because “it does not contain factual leads that could have laid the foundation for investigative actions” and that “proper description of such people constituting the source of information was not provided.”

It is unfortunate that the Nigerian government chose to vilify a report whose claims it has not bothered to investigate. This knee-jerk reaction painfully, further cheapens and reduces the lives and dignity of all those whose stories were the subject of the allegations, who are already broken by the Nigerian State’s failure to safeguard from abuse and exploitation. No responsible government will dismiss grave allegations of the horrendous abuses of its citizens without first undertaking an independent inquiry and satisfying itself of the truthfulness of the claims made. In this case, a government which vaunts that it takes human rights abuses seriously has committed itself to the position that that allegations of serious atrocities made against agents of the State are unfounded without lifting a finger to verify them.

The grounds for dismissing the report are deplorable. Government says “proper description of such people constituting the source of information was not provided”. That objection is abjectly ludicrous, even more so for a government that is supposedly promoting a whistle-blower’s policy and protecting the identities of persons who provide information to it on criminal activities. How is it tenable for government to request for sources of information in the 21st century before it can act on complaints of the possible commission of war crimes, particularly when those sources can be exposed to further traumatization or possible destruction should they be revealed or outed?

The Nigerian government is no stranger to accusations that its military operates with impunity and knows that the military has been severally accused of horrendous crimes and atrocities against civilian targets particularly within the contexts of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. Besides Amnesty International, other independent organizations, including the National Human Rights Commission, have conducted similar studies and returned findings indicting the military of staggering lawlessness and excessive violence on a number of occasions. A Judicial Panel of Enquiry constituted by the Kaduna State government said last year that the military was responsible for the preventable deaths of at least 348 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. The federal government, aware of these allegations, subsequently set up the Justice Georgewill Presidential Investigation Panel to examine allegations of human rights violations and criminal conduct against the Military. In the light of all this knowledge and precedent, it beggars belief that the same government would summarily dismiss new allegations of human rights abuses against its military with the wave of a hand.

This inordinate rush to absolve the military of wrongdoing whenever incriminating claims are made against it continues to harden the culture of impunity within military institutions, and strengthen the belief of military officials that they are invincible and untouchable, and can “kill and go” at will. If security operatives are indulged to think that way, it is not far-fetched that they will continuously act unprofessionally and atrociously towards civilian populations – just as Nigerians have witnessed in a variety of contexts – and it is possible to interpret the grave allegations Amnesty International has reported within this framework. By continuing to peremptorily dismiss complaints made against the conduct of military forces, the Buhari government facilitates the replication of reprobate behaviour amongst members of our security agencies, particularly by providing cover for them when they are called out, or challenged, and refusing to hold them accountable, as this case appears to highlight. This, clearly is anti-change!

Access to Justice therefore calls on the federal government to;

  1. Immediately reverse its statement on AI’s report and undertake a prompt, impartial investigation of the allegations contained in the report by an independent panel of persons widely known for their integrity and independence;
  2. Pending the outcome of investigations and to reduce risks of interference with any investigation, suspend all military officers, including the Chief of Army Staff who have either been implicated in, or have control over units or divisions where those implicated belong to.
  3. Hold all those who are found to have committed verified abuses accountable, by bringing them to justice
  4. Strengthen oversight on Internal Displacement Camps, and instate procedures to avoid extortion, exploitation and starvation, as well as provide adequate reliefs and assuagement to all those who have been victims of abuses in all IDP camps.  

 

Joseph Otteh,

Convener, Access to Justice

 

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