Access to Justice Demands Immediate Investigation of Amnesty International’s Allegations of War Crimes by Nigeria’s Military; Chiefs of Defence and Army Staff Should “Step Aside” Now to ensure Credible Inquiry

On June 3 2015, Amnesty International (AI) released its report titled: Stars on their shoulder. Blood on their hands. The report and accompanying video detail possible war crimes committed by the Nigerian military in the course of undertaking counter-terrorism operations in north-east Nigeria against the Boko Haram sect. The report alleges that the Nigerian military have committed countless acts of torture, extra-judicially executed more than 1,200 people, and arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, which include mostly young men and boys. The investigation carried out by the organization also revealed that many Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention.

Access to Justice (A2Justice) is appalled and outraged by the allegations detailed in this report: they constitute grave, deplorable and mind-boggling violations of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution to everyone: the allegations, if true, also grievously contravene international treaties binding on Nigeria.

The war against terrorism is no excuse for the horrendous slaughter and willful killing of persons who have not been determined to have any links to terror or terrorist organizations. 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. That suit is 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. We are happy to note that the Buhari administration is studying the report; however the government needs to move quickly to constitute aprompt, impartial and effective inquiry into it now before vital evidence is destroyed or compromised. For this purpose, we demand:

1) That all the serving military officers named in the AI report proceed on compulsory leave from their current duties to safeguard against risks of interference with any investigations that would be conducted into the allegations;

2) That Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, and Lt. General Ken Minimah current Chiefs of Defence Staff and Army Staff respectively, immediately step down from office or proceed on compulsory leave to make way for investigations into the allegations contained in the AI report.

Allegations of grave and massive human rights violations by military forces have seriously dented Nigeria’s image nationally and internationally and this needs to change. 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. Applying the rule of law to the fight against terrorism will increase the chances of winning that war and restoring security and safety to Nigerians. The failure of the Nigerian government to investigate the allegations in the AI report will be tantamount to breaching its international obligations.

Joseph Otteh                                 Imuekemhe Emike Jessica
Executive Director                          Programme Officer