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Cover Choice, POLITICS

Nigerian Military Chiefs May Face ICC Trial

Posted: Jun 7, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Dele Omojuyigbe

They are Nigerian soldiers expected to rise stoutly in defence of the territorial integrity of their country. This is the univocal demand of their military calling. And as they make bold incursions into the Boko Haram’s camp in north-eastern Nigeria, to rout the insurgents and stop their mindless killings, they are expected to be professional to the core, obeying all the rules laid down by the International Humanitarian Law. But the situation appears different, for it is being alleged by Amnesty International that the soldiers violate the rules in their zealousness to end the rebellion in a jiffy. They are said to have committed heinous crimes along the line and ironically, they currently stand the risk of facing trials at the International Criminal Court.



This is a stunning revelation emerging from a new study conducted by Amnesty International, on the activities of some Nigerian military officers in north-eastern Nigeria since the outbreak of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009. The soldiers are said to have been engaged in extra-judicial execution of about 1,200 people; mass arbitrary arrest of nearly 20,000 people; enforced disappearance of hundreds of Nigerians; countless acts of torture; and death of about 7,000 people in military custody.

Although these are still allegations, yet no one can disclaim the damage which the Boko Haram insurgents have wreaked on the Nigerian state since 2009. The rebels are as daring as they are deadly. They have killed both civilians and soldiers and yet their thirst for blood seems unabated. They are even hard to identify in a crowd because they mix freely with innocent civilians. This is a plausible excuse for Nigerian soldiers who may have killed civilians unintentionally in their course of duty, as being alleged.

Amnesty admits that Boko Haram has evolved into a non-international armed conflict with the Nigerian security forces in Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa states. But it also observes that the conflict has been marked by outrageous violations committed by both sides. However, Amnesty’s position is that the situation in the north-east is a non-international armed-conflict because Boko Haram is a well organized force which controls a territory and has a clear command structure.

Boko Haram has used bombs to launch attacks against government and all its perceived enemies. In the process, civilians have been slaughtered and teachers and students abducted. Amnesty’s study even indicates that about 2,000 young women and girls have been subjected to forced marriages; men and boys forcibly conscripted; and houses and schools destroyed. The organization reveals that the Nigerian budget for defence and security has increased massively since the conflict began but regrets that there is little sign that the money reaches the frontline. So, operation in the north-east remains under-resourced while corruption is rife, it says.

Amnesty has concluded that these acts committed in a context of non-international armed conflict, constitute war crimes for which military commanders bear both individual and command responsibility, and may amount to crimes against humanity. Presently, the human rights organization is calling for the investigation of the military officers who gave orders or directly participated in the commission of these crimes in order to establish their individual responsibility. It notes that superior officers could also bear responsibility for violations committed by units under their command in accordance with the doctrine of command responsibility, even if they did not directly participate in the violations. The argument is that if they knew about the crimes, or should have known about them, and failed to prevent them or submit the matter for prosecution, they are liable to investigation.

The reason is that the International Humanitarian Law seeks to mitigate the effects of war by limiting military operations and sparing those not participating in hostilities. War crimes are serious violations of international humanitarian law which draws its strength from the Geneva Convention of 1949. The law prohibits direct attacks on civilians and their objects; and protects those who are not participating and can no longer participate in hostilities.

All of these revelations are made in the newly conducted study by Amnesty International, entitled “Stars on their shoulders; blood on their hands – War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian Military”.  The global human rights organisation alleges that some military officers committed war crimes by violating the dictates of the International Humanitarian Law as entrenched in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during their operations in north-eastern Nigeria.

According to Amnesty, the findings are from a careful study which it carried out on the activities of the Nigerian military since the Boko Haram rebellion started. The study is said to be based on field investigations between 2013 and 2015; and the over 400 interviews conducted with survivors, victims, their relatives, eyewitnesses, human rights activists, doctors, lawyers and military sources. The organization said that it analysed over 90 videos and numerous photographs showing members of the security forces and the civilian JTF committing violations. It interviewed witnesses who could verify the content of the videos and independent military sources, including four high-level military officials; examined over 800 official documents, mostly correspondents between the headquarters and the field and daily reports from military units;  reports by NGOs, public statements, media reports, court documents, legislation, reports  by committees set up to investigate the conflict in the north – east and transcripts of debates held in the national assembly.

The organisation observes that it independently verified the documents and confirmed their authenticity. It also says that it has shared the findings of its study and relevant evidence with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; the Federal Minister of Justice and Attorney-General; National Security Adviser; Chiefs of Defence and Army Staff; and Minister of Foreign Affairs. It reveals that it demanded clarifications from the Federal Government in November 2014 and till May, 2015 full clarification was not made. These are all indications that the last story on this emerging incident may not have been heard yet.