Fighting war crime with war crime: murder in north-east Nigeria

A new report released by Amnesty today reveals a catalogue of wide scale horrors: including how more than 8,000 people have been murdered, starved, suffocated and tortured to death. 


Boko Haram, you may think?  Not this time. 


This time, it’s Nigeria’s own military who are accused of committing war crimes, including: 

The unlawful killing of at least 1,200 people

Deaths of more than 7,000 men and boys in military detention since 2011

Deliberate starvation of detainees in military barracks

Men being tortured to death, hung on poles over fires, tossed into pits or interrogated using electric batons 


One former detainee said to Amnesty: “Sometimes we drank people’s urine, but even the urine you at times could not get.” He added that around 300 people in his cell died after being denied water for two days.  By comparison, he was lucky.


And it would that these crimes may have been known by senior ranking military commanders. Amnesty names nine of Nigeria’s top brass – including its Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Air Staff, calling for them to be investigated. 


Whenever we hear about what’s going on in the north east of Nigeria, the focus is normally on Boko Haram. Indeed, Amnesty has detailed extensively Boko Haram’s brutal campaign of terror and destruction in the north east. 


Soldiers – who are often under-resourced – have struggled to combat this armed group. Sometimes, they’ve been chased out of town. 


Nigeria’s military has to prevent Boko Haram’s reign of terror. But not by fighting war crime with war crime. 


President Buhari is in Niger to discuss fresh ways to tackle Boko Haram. Sensible move, as Boko Haram respects no borders. But what is also important is that Buhari cleans up his own military. 


As Salil Shetty said: “For years the Nigerian authorities have downplayed accusations of [the military’s] abuses. But they cannot dismiss their own internal military documents. They cannot ignore testimonies from witnesses and high-ranking military whistle blowers. And they cannot deny the existence of emaciated and mutilated bodies piled on mortuary slabs and dumped in mass graves.”


It’s a new President, a new term and a fresh opportunity to ensure that we don’t see a repeat of this death toll in years to come. 


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