The Nigerian army has announced the constitution of a powerful team of experts to investigate the war crime charge which Amnesty International leveled against its officers fighting members of Boko Haram in some parts of the North.
Director Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, in response to the war crime allegations, said in a statement: “the Defence Headquarters in addition to the already existing Joint Investigation Team (JIT), has constituted a team of senior officers and legal cum forensic experts to study the video footage and the resultant allegations of infractions in order to ascertain the veracity of the claims with a view to identifying those behind such acts.
“This will further determine and stimulate necessary legal action against any personnel or anyone found culpable in accordance with the provisions of the law.”
Olukolade insisted that Military authorities are deeply concerned about the set of video footage being circulated and which unfortunately has also become reference data for Amnesty International in its report.”
Amnesty International, in its report, claimed to have “a fresh evidence of war crimes, including extrajudicial executions, and other serious human rights violations being carried out in North Eastern Nigeria as the fight by the military against Boko Haram and other armed groups intensifies.”
The military in its response said, “much as the scenes depicted in these videos are alien to our operations and doctrines, it has to be investigated to ensure that such practices have not crept, surreptitiously into the system.
“The Defence Headquarters considers these allegations too grievous to be associated with Nigerian troops, considering the doctrinal and operational contents of the training imparted to personnel on a continuous basis; emphasising the importance of respect for human rights and dignity of human person as well as observance of humanitarian laws.
“Notwithstanding the cases of impersonations that have pervaded the counter terrorism operations in Nigeria and many other related issues which cast doubts on the claims made in the video, the military authorities view those grave allegations very seriously, more so as it borders on the integrity of the on-going counter terrorism operation, which must be sustained in the interest of our national survival.
“The Nigerian Armed Forces cannot condone any action or inaction that tramples on the right to life of any Nigerian. The ultimate objective of Nigeria’s counter?terrorism operation is the complete cessation of the heinous and barbaric activities of the terrorists and to stamp out every vestige of terrorism in our country with the application of international best practices in such operations.
“It will, therefore, be absurd for the Nigerian Armed Forces as an institution to perpetrate such unprofessional acts in the manner and level depicted in that video as alleged by Amnesty International.
“Indeed, that level of barbarism and impunity has no place in the Nigerian military. Respect for the sanctity of life is always boldly emphasized in our doctrinal trainings. It must thus be reiterated that the Nigerian military is a very well organized professional body of troops whose conducts in war and peace times are guided comprehensively by law.”
Secretary General of the Amnesty International, Salil Shetty had said:
“This shocking new evidence is further proof of the appalling disregard for humanity in north-eastern Nigeria, where war crimes are being committed with abandon by all sides in the conflict. What does it say about a country when members of its military carry out such unspeakable acts and then deliberately capture the images on film?
“The ghastly images are made worse by the numerous testimonies we have gathered which suggest that extrajudicial executions are, in fact, regularly carried out by the Nigerian military and CJTF.
“Members of Boko Haram and other armed groups are responsible for a huge number of heinous crimes – like the abduction of the schoolgirls in Chibok more than three months ago – but the military are supposed to defend people, not to carry out further abuses themselves.
“A state of emergency must not give way to a state of lawlessness. Sadly, the same communities are now being terrorized in turn by Boko Haram and the military alike.”
The footage Amnesty has obtained includes a gruesome incident that took place near Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, on 14 March 2014. It shows what appear to be members of the Nigerian military and CJTF using a blade to slit the throats of a series of detainees, before dumping them into an open mass grave.
The video shows 16 young men and boys seated in a line. One by one, they are called forward and told to lie down in front of the pit. Five of them are killed in this way; the fate of the remaining detainees is not shown on video, but eyewitness accounts confirmed that nine of them had their throats cut while the others were shot dead.
Additional footage featuring some of the same perpetrators, taken earlier that day at the same location, shows two detainees digging a grave under armed guard before the killing is carried out. One is told to lie down in front of the pit, where his legs and head are held by what seem to be CJTF members. The individual who appears to be the commander of the group puts his right foot on the man’s side, raises his knife, kisses it and shouts “Die hard Commando” and cuts the throat of the restrained young man. All other military and CJTF shout “Yes oga [boss], kill him”.
Amnesty spoke to several military sources who independently confirmed that the armed captors in the video were indeed military personnel, and according to two credible sources, they may be part of the 81 Battalion, which is based in Borno State.
No buildings, roads or other infrastructure can be seen in the video but the noise of cars confirms that it is near a road. Several of the armed captors are wearing military uniforms, one of which has the words “Borno State Operation Flush” emblazoned on the front. The ID number on one of the guns is also clearly identifiable.
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty that the videos were recorded on 14 March this year, the day of Boko Haram’s attack on the military detention centre in Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. Boko Haram forces reportedly released their members and told all other detainees to either join them or go home. After Boko Haram had left the town, more than 600 people, mostly recaptured detainees, were extrajudicially executed in various locations across Maiduguri. The detainees in the video were rearrested by the CJTF in Giddari Polo, near the barracks, where various sources have confirmed that a number of them were shot and killed by soldiers after being handed over to the military. The military then took the corpses and the detainees to a location outside Maiduguri, near Giddari where the executions are reported to have been carried out.
Military round-ups in Bama
Further video evidence obtained by Amnesty reveals atrocities carried out in Bama, a town 70km south-east of Maiduguri.
Bama is one of the many communities that has been a focal point of the violence over the past two years. It has frequently been targeted in armed raids by Boko Haram and has also been singled out at least twice by the Nigerian military for mass arbitrary arrests of people whom they allege are Boko Haram members.
Residents told Amnesty about a “screening” operation which took place in July last year. Scores of Nigerian military and CJTF from Maiduguri arrived in the central market around 11am and told all the adult men to gather in one area and take off their clothes.
According to eyewitnesses, the men were then lined up and, one by one, told to close their eyes as they were pushed in front of a man seated in a vehicle. The man then indicated left or right. Up to 35 men who were sent to the left were alleged to be Boko Haram members. The remaining 300 or so were sent to the right, deemed to be innocent.
The video evidence obtained by Amnesty corroborates multiple eyewitness accounts of what happened next. The Nigerian military and CJTF members ordered those alleged to be Boko Haram members to lie down side by side on the ground, and then beat them with sticks and machetes. One eyewitness told Amnesty the military officials shouted: “You have to beat, even kill these; they are Boko Haram”.
The footage shows how during this “screening” operation, the military and CJTF fired celebratory shots in the air. Up to 35 detainees were then loaded onto a single military vehicle and taken away to the local military barracks in Bama.
Several days later, on the afternoon of 29 July, military personnel took the men out of the barracks and brought them to their communities, where they shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their corpses. One local resident told Amnesty International how the gunshots rang out from around 2pm into the evening as soldiers shot and deposited the bodies in different places around the town.
A relative of one of the murdered men described the aftermath: “At that time everyone was aware that these people [had been] killed, [and] started running to look. We found [our relative] near Bama bridge. Plenty of people were with us. They [had] shot five of them [in that location alone]. There were five bodies including [my relative]. He had a bullet hole in his chest and no clothes, only trousers. We took the body and buried it. There is no death certificate; Bama hospital is not functioning. There is no place to complain; the town has restricted movement. Everybody left what happened to God.”
Deadly Boko Haram raid
Like many other communities in north-eastern Nigeria, Bama’s residents have been living in constant fear of attacks by Boko Haram and other armed groups. These are sometimes believed to be in retaliation for what the armed groups deem to be the local residents’ co-operation with the Nigerian military. Many of the attacks have been met with little resistance by the military.
Boko Haram staged its most deadly assault on the town over the course of several hours early in the morning of 19 February this year, which locals report left almost 100 people dead and more than 200 injured. Improvised explosive devices and grenades were used to destroy huge swathes of the town.
“The insurgents had a field day, killing, burning and demolishing,” one Bama resident told Amnesty.
Video footage taken in the aftermath of the attack shows the charred remains of numerous cars and buildings, including fire damage to the top floor of the local Emir’s palace. Eyewitnesses said that schools and other administrative buildings were also bombed or torched, and more than 100 residents’ vehicles were destroyed. The footage from the aftermath shows scores of corpses wrapped for burial.
Amnesty is calling for an independent investigation into this pattern of systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in north-eastern Nigeria. The Nigerian government must publicly condemn such acts, including reports of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions carried out by the Nigerian military.
Later this year, Amnesty will launch a report documenting human rights abuses committed by both parties to the conflict and the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the area. [myad]