By Nuel Suji, Abuja
Amnesty International has called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to immediately set machinery in motion for thorough investigation of top military chiefs, both serving and retired for war crimes.
Top on the list of those to be investigated for possible trial include the current Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah and immediate past Chief of Army and Naval, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika and Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim respectively among others.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Amnesty International described as ‘horrific war crimes’, the alleged murder, starvation, suffocation and torture to death of 8, 000 people by Nigerian military.
It then called on the new government to ensure the protection of civilians and bring to an end the culture of impunity within the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The statement reads, “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, according to a comprehensive report by Amnesty International.
Based on years of research and analysis of evidence – including leaked military reports and correspondence, as well as interviews with more than 400 victims, eyewitnesses and senior members of the Nigerian security forces – the organization 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, 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 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 – 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 organization 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 he was arrested with survived.
Starvation, dehydration and disease
Amnesty International researchers witnessed emaciated corpses in mortuaries, and one former Giwa detainee told the organization 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”.