Global human rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI) has called for the immediate investigation of top past and present military commanders for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Nigeria military in its fight against Islamist extremist insurgents, Boko Haram.
A report released Wednesday titled: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military, AI alleged that over 7,000 men and boys suspected to be member of the Boko Haram have died in military detention since March 2011, and more than 1,200 others have been unlawfully killed since February 2012.
Amnesty International claimed that the report provides compelling evidence gathered from interviews with over 400 victims, senior military officials, and leaked military reports and correspondences to warrant investigations into “individual and command responsibilities of soldiers, and mid-level and senior-level military commanders up to the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Army Staff who should be investigated for the alleged war crime and crime against humanity”.
The report further listed nine former and present top military commanders that should be investigated. They include: Major General John A.H. Ewansiha, Major General Obida T Ethnan, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, Brigadier General Austin O. Edokpayi, and Brigadier General Rufus O. Bamigboye for potential individual or command responsibility for the war crimes of murder, torture and enforced disappearance.
Other top military commanders named by AI are: General Azubuike Ihejirika, 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 – date, General Ken Minimah, Chief of Army Staff, Jan 2014 -date, whom AI said should be investigated for “potential command responsibility for crimes of murder, torture and enforced disappearance committed by their subordinates.” The organisation further added that the above persons should be held responsible if they knew of the commission these crimes and did not take appropriate steps to prevent them or ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
AI therefore called on the Nigerian government to undertake prompt, independent and effective investigations of the allegations.
“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,” he added.
Gruesome and Horrific treatment of Detainees
The report revealed gruesome and horrific treatment of suspects, some as young as nine years old. Ii said the military used summary executions, mass murder, starvation, suffocation and torture against the victims.
According to the report, the over 20,000 young men arrested by the military in the northeast since the war with Boko Haram were kept 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 quoted in the report told AI that: “All I know was that once you get detained by the soldiers and taken to Giwa [military barracks], your life is finished.”
A top military source allegedly told AI that 683 detainees died in military custody between October 2012 and and February 2013. Further evidence also obtained by the organisation shows in 2013 4,700 bodies were brought to a mortuary from a detention facility in Giwa Baracks, Maiduguri and in June alone more than 1,400 corpses were delivered in to the mortuary.
“The soldiers said: “Welcome to your die house. Welcome to your place of death,” a detainee who spent four months in Giwa Baracks told AI. He said only 11 of the 122 men he was arrested with survived.
Sometimes up to 300 inmates were kept in a tiny cell and communicable diseases such as cholera were rife at the centres.
The detainees are mostly denied of food and water that they sometime rely on drinking others urine for survival, the report claimed.
“Hundreds have been killed in detention either (by soldiers) shooting them or by suffocation,” a military officer told AI
AI said it confirmed that on a single day, 19 June 2013, 47 detainees died there as a result of suffocation.
Most of the victims died from chemical inhalation from the fumigation meant to stop the spread of diseases.
The organisation also revealed that most of the killing were in form of reprisal actions after Boko Haram attacks.
In some cases the military will round up all the young men in a community and kill them under the guise of carrying out mop up operations.
Top commanders knew
Amnesty International alleges that top military commander including the Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff, were regularly informed of operations conducted in north-east Nigeria likely to be were aware of the atrocities allegedly committed.
“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,” the report stated.
“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,” it added.”
“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.