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Nigeria Urged to Investigate Military War Crimes as President Buhari Renews Commitment to Defeating Boko Haram

( [email protected] ) Jun 04, 2015 02:59 PM EDT
Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed his army will take greater measures to defeat terrorist group Boko Haram by taking over from soldiers from Niger in occupying towns liberated from the Islamist militant group. However, a human rights group is urging the president to also investigate the abuses and acts carried out by Nigeria's armed forces, as over 7,000 young men and boys died in military custody in the past four years.
An investigation conducted by Amnesty International found that more than 7,000 young men and boys — some as young as nine years old — died in military detention, and more than 1,200 people including women and children were unlawfully killed by the Nigerian military. Reuters

Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed his army will take greater measures to defeat terrorist group Boko Haram by taking over from soldiers from Niger in occupying towns liberated from the Islamist militant group. However, a human rights group is urging the president to also investigate the abuses and acts carried out by Nigeria's armed forces, as over 7,000 young men and boys died in military custody in the past four years.

Buhari, who was inaugurated as Nigeria's president last Friday, expressed his desire to defeat Boko Haram, an extremist group which has terrorized the region for over five years, during a news conference with Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou.

"I renew my commitment to track Boko Haram into a corner, to destroy it. Five years of the presence of this evil sect is enough," he said, Reuters reported. "On the issue of the Niger military positioned in cities of Nigeria ... I think in the next four weeks we will be able to replace them with Nigerian forces so they can return to their country."

Boko Haram launched its insurgency five years ago, attacking towns and villages and killing thousands of people in an attempt to establish a caliphate in the region. The militants' abduction of 200 schoolgirls in April 2014 sparked outrage across the world. 

However, investigators with Amnesty International are also calling for an investigation of the Nigerian military, including nine senior commanders, for their role in shooting, starving, suffocating and torturing more than 8,000 people to death during the fight against Boko Haram.

In a new report, Stars on Their Shoulders. Blood on their Hands, the UK-based organization revealed that at least 20,000 young males, some only nine years old, have been arrested since 2009, when Boko Haram began their armed campaign.

Detainees, most of whom were arrested illegally, have been kept in cramped cells with little food or water, without investigation or trial, Amnesty says.

"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," Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general, said.

The report, which drew on leaked military reports as well as interviews with victims and security forces, went on to reveal that senior commanders either sanctioned the abuses, or ignored them when they took place.

"All I know was that once you get detained by the soldiers, your life is finished," one former detainee told Amnesty International. 

A senior military figure told the organization that it was common for soldiers to "go to the nearest place and kill all the youths. People killed may be innocent and not armed".

In response to the report, Major General Chris Olukolade of Nigeria's military said Amnesty International was trying to "blackmail" the armed forces and that no allegations had been proved against individuals the report identified.

"The Nigerian military ... rejects the biased and concocted report," he said in a statement on Wednesday, Al Jazeera reports."The Nigerian military does not encourage or condone abuse of human rights, neither will any proven case be left unpunished."

Because of the military's continued denial of any wrondoing, Amnesty International is calling on the international community to ensure President Buhari "investigates the abuses and acts decisively to end the pervasive culture of impunity within Nigeria's armed forces."

"We are not only calling for individuals to be investigated," Anna Niestat, Amnesty's senior director of research, told Al Jazeera, "Safeguards must be put in place to combat this endless cycle of impunity and abuses."