President Muhammadu Buhari’s order to the military to conduct internal probe over the damning Amnesty International report is unlikely to yield a positive result, Access to Justice, a rights advocacy group, has said.
In a statement Monday, the group said ordering the same institution accused of atrocities to undertake an internal investigation of the accusations comes far too short to ensure that the inquiries produce any credible conclusions.
“An internal inquiry by the same military accused of these allegations immediately suffers from a major structural flaw – there is already a negative perception that such an inquiry will be biased and be subject to overarching influences,” Joseph Otteh, Director, Access to Justice said.
“An internal inquiry will clearly not meet the criteria, or exigency, of impartiality so clearly needed in cases like this. If the government wants to conduct an internal inquiry first, then the government may appoint a Military Commission of Inquiry made up of retired military officers with unquestionable integrity and competence for this purpose.
“To ask serving Commanders in the military who, themselves, serve under the control of other senior officers in the military hierarchy who may have been implicated in the commission of these war crimes, to investigate these allegations, will short-change the truth, and defeat the purposes of such an inquiry.”
Amnesty International released a report on June 3 accusing the Nigerian military of being responsible for the deaths of about 8,000 prisoners in their fight against insurgency.
The report recommended the prosecution of some senior military commanders, including the serving and past service chiefs, on allegations of war crimes.
President Buhari had responded to the report by ordering the armed forces to undertake an internal inquiry over the allegations.
The president said a final decision on what course his administration would pursue concerning the allegations would ultimately be dependent on the advice of an Attorney General who is yet to be appointed.
In its statement, Access to Justice said it welcomed the President’s concern and decision not to sweep the allegations under the carpet, as his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, mostly did over past allegations.
“The past government’s refusal to take necessary action on previous reports of war crimes, as it appears, reportedly emboldened the culprits and allowed them to further perpetrate war crimes with impunity,” Mr. Otteh said.
The group noted that the military hierarchy had consistently denied any wrongdoing in their effort to curb insurgency and the outcome of an internal probe is unlikely to yield a contrary position.
“It may be recalled that shortly after the publication of Amnesty International’s report, the defence headquarters characterized the allegations as ‘a continuation of blackmail’ and ‘a premeditated indictment,’” Mr. Otteh said. “It also said that the military has ‘continued to state and restate its commitment to the rights of Nigerians and all its citizens while prosecuting its anti-terrorism campaign’ and accused Amnesty International of pursuing an ‘agenda against the security agencies.’
“It is highly doubtful that a military force that has out-rightly denied grave and widespread allegations of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and feels that its officers were targets of pre-meditated attacks can, and will umpire an impartial and credible internal investigation that may find otherwise.
“The work and outcomes of such internal inquiry will be widely regarded as unreliable, and will lack public confidence.”
Mr. Otteh said Nigeria’s international obligations to undertake investigations into allegations of war crimes and extra-judicial killings require such investigations to be prompt, credible, effective, impartial and independent.
“Nigeria has ratified and domesticated the Geneva Conventions applicable in war situations. Article 50 of the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea Aug. 12, 1949 provides that:
‘Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts…’
“Article 9 of The United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions also provide that:
‘There shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.'”