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 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
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
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
For years the Nigerian authorities have downplayed
accusations of human rights abuses by the military. But
they cannot dismiss their own internal military
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
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
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.