As Amnesty Int’l Reveals Why Top Military Commanders may face the music
The Nigerian Military may have recorded some successes in the war on terror in recent time, but what is coming out of the coffers of Amnesty International is disturbing, writes Ohia Israel
Just last week Amnesty International in its latest report on Human rights abuses by the Nigerian Army fighting the Boko Haram battle indicted the Nigerian Military for war crimes and called for investigation. According to Amnesty International, the Nigerian military, including senior military commanders, must be investigated for participating in, sanctioning or failing to prevent the deaths of more than 8,000 people murdered, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death.
Based on years of research and analysis of evidence – including leaked military reports and correspondences, as well as interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses and senior members of the Nigerian security forces – the organisation outlines a range of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military in the course of the fight against Boko Haram in the north-east of the country. The report, which is titled in segmented topics such as Stars on their shoulders; Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military, reveals 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.
Amnesty International provides compelling evidence of the need for an investigation into the individual and command responsibilities of soldiers, and mid-level and senior-level military commanders. The report outlines 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 – and names nine senior Nigerian military figures who should be investigated for command and individual responsibility for the crimes committed.
“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 provides strong grounds for investigations into the possible criminal responsibility of members of the military, including those at the highest levels,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Whilst an urgent and impartial investigation of these war crimes is vital, this report is not just about the criminal responsibility of individuals. It is also about the responsibility of Nigeria’s leadership to act decisively to end the pervasive culture of impunity within the armed forces.” Amnesty International is calling for Nigeria to ensure prompt, independent and effective investigations of the following military officers for potential individual or command responsibility for the war crimes of murder, torture and enforced disappearance detailed in this report:
* Major General John A.H. Ewansiha
* Major General Obida T Ethnan
* Major General Ahmadu Mohammed
* Brigadier General Austin O. Edokpayi
* Brigadier General Rufus O. Bamigboye
Amnesty International is further calling for Nigeria to ensure prompt, independent and effective investigations of the following high-level military commanders for their potential command responsibility for crimes committed by their subordinates. They would be responsible if they knew or if they should have known about the commission of the war crimes and failed to take adequate action to prevent them or to ensure the alleged perpetrators are brought to justice:
* General AzubuikeIhejirika- Chief of Army Staff, Sept 2010 – Jan 2014).
* Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim - Chief of Defence Staff, Oct 2012 – Jan 2014).
* Air Chief Marshal Badeh- Chief of Defence Staff, Jan 2014 – time of writing
* General Ken Minimah- Chief of Army Staff, Jan 2014 – time of writing mass deaths in custody
In their response to Boko Haram’s attacks in the north-east, the Nigerian military have arrested at least 20,000 young men and boys since 2009, some as young as nine years old. In most cases they were arbitrarily arrested, often based solely on the word of a single unidentified secret informant. Most were arrested in mass “screening” operations or “cordon-and-search” raids where security forces round up hundreds of men. Almost none of those detained have been brought to court and all have been held without the necessary safeguards against murder, torture and ill-treatment. Detainees are held incommunicado in extremely overcrowded, unventilated cells without sanitary facilities and with little food or water. Many are subjected to torture and thousands have died from ill-treatment and as a result of dire detention conditions. One former detainee told Amnesty International: “All I know was that once you get detained by the soldiers and taken to Giwa [military barracks], your life is finished.”
A high-ranking military officer gave Amnesty International a list of 683 detainees who died in custody between October 2012 and February 2013. The organisation also obtained evidence that in 2013, more than 4,700 bodies were brought to a mortuary from a detention facility in Giwa barracks. In June 2013 alone, more than 1,400 corpses were delivered to the mortuary from this facility.
A former detainee who spent four months in detention described how on arrival “The soldiers said: “Welcome to your die house. Welcome to your place of death”. Only 11 of the 122 men arrested survived. Starvation, dehydration and disease Amnesty International researchers witnessed emaciated corpses in mortuaries, and one former Giwa detainee told the organisation that around 300 people in his cell died after being denied water for two days. “Sometimes we drank people’s urine, but even the urine you at times could not get.”
The evidence gathered from former detainees and eyewitnesses is also corroborated by senior military sources. One senior military officer told Amnesty International that detention centres are not given sufficient money for food and that detainees in Giwa barracks were “deliberately starved.” Disease – including possible outbreaks of cholera – was rife. A police officer posted at a detention facility known as the “Rest House” in Potiskum told Amnesty International how more than 500 corpses were buried in and around the camp. “They don’t take them to the hospital if they are sick or to the mortuary if they die,” he said.
Overcrowding and suffocation
Conditions of detention in Giwa barracks and detention centres in Damaturu were so overcrowded that hundreds of detainees were packed into small cells where they had to take turns sleeping or even sitting on the floor. At its peak, Giwa barracks – which was not built as a detention facility –was accommodating more than 2,000 detainees at one time. “Hundreds have been killed in detention either (by soldiers) shooting them or by suffocation,” a military officer told Amnesty International, describing the situation in Sector Alpha detention centre (known as ‘Guantanamo’). Amnesty International has confirmed that on a single day, 19 June 2013, 47 detainees died there as a result of suffocation.
In order to combat the spread of disease and stifle the stench, cells were regularly fumigated with chemicals. Fumigation may have led to the deaths of many detainees in their poorly ventilated cells. One military official based at Giwa barracks told Amnesty International: “Many Boko Haram suspects died as a result of fumigation. They fumigated with the chemicals you use for killing mosquitoes. It is something very powerful. It is very dangerous.”
Amnesty International has received consistent reports as well as video evidence of torture by the military during and after arrest. Former detainees and senior military sources described how detainees were regularly tortured to death, hung on poles over fires, tossed into deep pits or interrogated using electric batons. These findings are consistent with widespread patterns of torture and ill-treatment documented by Amnesty International over a number of years, most recently in the 2014 report, ‘Welcome to hell fire’: Torture in Nigeria.
More than 1,200 people have been unlawfully killed by the military and associated militias in north-east Nigeria. The worst case documented by Amnesty International took place on 14 March 2014 when the military killed more than 640 detainees who had fled Giwa barracks after Boko Haram attacked. Many of these killings appear to be reprisals following attacks by Boko Haram. A senior military official told Amnesty International that such killings were common. Soldiers “go to the nearest place and kill all the youths… People killed may be innocent and not armed,” he said.
In a so-called “mop up” operation following a Boko Haram attack in Baga on 16 April 2013, a senior military official told Amnesty International how the military “transferred their aggression on the community”. At least 185 people were killed. Detainees were also routinely killed. One military officer based in Giwa Barracks told Amnesty International that since the end of 2014, very few suspects were even taken into custody but were immediately killed instead. This was confirmed by several human rights defenders and witnesses.
High level military commanders knew of the crimes
The highest levels of Nigeria’s military command, including the Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff, were regularly informed of operations conducted in north-east Nigeria. Evidence shows that senior military leaders knew, or should have known, about the nature and scale of the crimes being committed. Internal military documents show that they were updated on the high rates of deaths among detainees through daily field reports, letters and assessment reports sent by field commanders to Defence Headquarters (DHQ) and Army Headquarters.
Amnesty International has seen numerous requests and reminders sent from commanders in the field to DHQ warning of the rise in the number of deaths in custody, the dangers of fumigation and requesting a transfer of detainees. In addition, reports by teams sent by DHQ to assess military facilities and “authenticate data”, highlight death rates and warn that overcrowding was causing serious health problems and could lead to “an epidemic”. Amnesty International has verified this knowledge and failure to act from a number of sources, including interviews with senior military officers. One military source told Amnesty International: “People at the top saw it but refused to do anything about it.”
Need for action
“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,” said Salil Shetty.
“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.”
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has acknowledged receipt of the Amnesty International report on Nigeria titled “Nigeria: Stories of horror in their own words.” Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity), Mal. GarbaShehu said in a press statement in Niamey, Niger Republic on Wednesday, 3 June 2015 said that President Buhari has received the report which he says contains many disturbing allegations. According to Shehu, President Buhari assured his administration will study the document and act appropriately.
“I assure you that your report will be looked into,” President Buhari said.
He said without meaning to prejudice the outcome of any investigation, Nigerians needed to be reassured that “this administration will leave no stone unturned to promote the rule of law, and deal with all cases of human rights abuses.
“Respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law are the life and soul of the democratic system. We will not tolerate or condone impunity and reckless disregard for human rights.”
However, the Nigerian Defence Headquarters ,DHQ has once again responded furiously to yet another set of allegations by Amnesty International ,describing the latest report as a “continuation of blackmail against the military hierarchy”.
In its report Amnesty International listed among other issues, senior Nigerian military leaders that should be investigated for war crimes. But the DHQ in a statement signed by its spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade said “It is unfortunate that all efforts 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. The title down to the body of the allegation smacks of the 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, has taken a premeditated position, which is far from noble. The defence spokesman said further that “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 and parcel of efforts to ensure that no detainee 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 stop playing the role of an irritant coming up loudly only when the terrorists are losing out and remaining silent or complacent whenever the terrorist heightens its atrocities. It is unfair to persist in effort to discredit Nigerian military by seeking all avenues 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 are largely spurious or 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. Additional definite response will be provided subsequently as deemed necessary”, the statement maintained.
As Amnesty Int’l Reveals Why Top Military Commanders may face the music