Q&A: Nigeria’s military implicated in war crimes

What is Amnesty International alleging? 

Amnesty International has gathered gruesome video footage, images and testimonies, including eyewitness accounts, which provide compelling fresh evidence of war crimes by the Nigerian military and by the Boko Haram armed group. In addition to the pattern of extrajudicial executions, there is also evidence that the military campaign against Boko Haram and other armed groups has included other serious human rights violations including mass arbitrary arrests and torture. 

How did Amnesty International obtain this footage?

Amnesty International secured this footage from reliable contacts in north east Nigeria during a recent fact-finding/ research mission to Borno state in July 2014.  The videos and images are circulating widely in the region.

What can you learn from the videos? 

The videos support allegations of war crimes and extensive human rights violations committed at the hand of Nigeria’s military, the “Civilian Joint Task Force” (CJTF), a state sponsored militia group, which operates in conjunction with the military and by the armed group, Boko Haram. 

The footage, obtained from numerous sources on a recent mission to north-eastern Nigeria, graphically depicts multiple war crimes and other abuses committed by both sides to the conflict. They include:

The mass arbitrary arrest and beatings of dozens of civilians in the town of Bama, Borno State, in July 2013 by Nigerian military and CJTF.The aftermath of a Boko Haram raid on Bama in February 2014 during which Boko Haram killed nearly 100 people and destroyed or badly damaged scores of homes and other buildings.  Detainees being dumped into mass graves after having their throats slit by men who appear to be members of the Nigerian military and the “civilian joint task force” (“CJTF”) – believed to have taken place on 14 March 2014 just outside of Maiduguri.

How do you know the videos are authentic?

Amnesty International has verified all the content of the videos. The verification process included corroboration of the events shown in the video by eyewitness testimony and other information from reliable sources on the ground, including a number of military officials.  

Amnesty International also conducted a content analysis of the video, looking at specific features depicted in it. The analysis included image enhancement techniques and reviewing the video in slow motion, using the VLC and Tracker software. 

The audio was also extracted from the video, which can be used for further analysis and review, such as analysis of accents and linguistic traits.

Aren’t these just a few isolated incidents by ‘rogue elements’ within the military and their allies?

The incidents shown in the video clips released by Amnesty International are indicative of a wider pattern of abuses in the Nigerian military’s response to the armed conflict with Boko Haram and other armed groups. 

In recent months the armed conflict has intensified in smaller towns and villages, which are now increasingly on the front line. More than 4,000 people have been killed this year alone in the conflict by the Nigerian military and Boko Haram, including more than 600 extrajudicially executed following the Giwa Barracks attack on 14 march in Maiduguri. This year alone, upwards of 4,000 people have been killed during armed attacks. Civilians who are not directly participating in hostilities make up the majority of this death toll. 

Communities that have been terrorized for several years by the armed group Boko Haram are facing another threat at the hands of the very military whose duty it is to protect them. For years, Amnesty International has documented reports of violations committed by the Nigerian military and the CJTF. 

How can we be sure the alleged perpetrators are members of the Nigerian military? Anyone can put on a military uniform. 

Amnesty International has independently verified the events depicted in the video footage and we would not have released them unless we were sure of their authenticity. 

This has been done by carrying out multiple interviews with eyewitnesses and families of victims, information which corroborates the events shown in the videos.  

Various members of the military have also spoken to Amnesty International – on conditions of anonymity – to corroborate the evidence the organization has obtained. 

In the video depicting extrajudicial executions, the organization has been able to independently verify numerous elements of the video. 

Clothing and equipment of the uniformed men in the video is consistent with available data on the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) and Nigerian army personnel deployed in the area. Significantly, one key uniformed actor is wearing a flak jacket that displays “Borno State. Operation Flush”. The gun identified in the video carries a serial number that suggests it belongs to the 81 Battalion of the Nigerian military. According to reliable military sources, the rifle belongs to the Support Company of 81 Battalion and it has not been reported missing.

Why don’t you name your sources, rather than just saying ‘eyewitnesses’ or ‘sources’?

The situation in Nigeria is highly volatile and we have a duty to protect the safety of our contacts on the ground but we absolutely stand by the authenticity of those we have spoken to.

Did Amnesty International raise these concerns with the Nigerian authorities?

Yes. On 23 July 2014, the organization’s Secretary General Salil Shetty sent a letter to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, detailing the evidence we had gathered, asking for specific information. In the letter, he urged the Nigerian authorities to publicly condemn the serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations carried out by the military and to launch an investigation into the allegations we have documented. 

A similar communique and evidence was also sent to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the National Security Advisor, The Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Defence headquarters and the Special Advisor on Public Affairs to the President and the Nigerian High Commission in London. 

What should happen next?

Amnesty International is calling for an immediate, independent, impartial and thorough investigation into the pattern of serious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all sides that is emerging 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. 

What can the international community do?

Following the Chibok raid which resulted in the abduction of more than 240 schoolgirls in April 2014, numerous governments pledged to help the Nigerian authorities locate and free the girls, or otherwise assist in the fight against Boko Haram and other armed groups. Any government working with the Nigerian authorities must ensure that all operations conducted during this armed conflict comply with international humanitarian and human rights law. Nigeria’s international partners must press for an immediate investigation to be launched into the pattern of serious violations, along the lines Amnesty International is calling for.