By S. Y. Bello
I am directed to write and express Nigerian Government’s profound disappointment in how Amnesty International have handled the alleged video footage that was made public on August 5, 2014. In short, the actions have placed Amnesty International’s desire for publicity and fundraising ahead of the justice and accountability that Amnesty claims to seek for victims. There is no doubt that the alleged actions shown in the video were horrific and, if the claims that these atrocities were conducted by Nigerian Soldiers are proven accurate, every soldier involved in these actions deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Prior to your press release, however, we had thought that our Government and Amnesty International were united in a desire to investigate the video and other allegations and hold alleged perpetrators to account. In a letter you sent to President Jonathan on July 23, 2014, you asked for an “immediate, impartial, independent, and thorough investigation” into these reports of extrajudicial killings. On July 30, 2014, we responded with a letter stating that in response to your allegations, the “Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff has accordingly directed for an immediate and thorough investigation into all the issues and allegations contained therein.” It went on to say that “as soon as the investigation is concluded you will be availed with the report, findings, recommendations, and actions taken on the issue.”
To our shock and dismay, despite this clear and unequivocal response, Amnesty International rejected this action and only days later launched a public assault against the Government of Nigeria. We had thought from our correspondence, mistakenly, that Amnesty International actually wanted to stand in solidarity with the victims and obtain justice and accountability for alleged perpetrators. Instead, by your hasty press release, you have compromised our investigation and made our job more difficult. It is clear the only reason for making such a choice can be a conscious decision to prioritize your own publicity and fundraising ahead of demonstrable results.
In your online Question and Answer Section, on the topic “Nigeria’s Military Implicated in War Crimes”, you asked: “Did Amnesty International raise these concerns with the Nigerian Authorities?” and you answered: “Yes. On 23th 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. To date, no response has been received from the President (emphasis added). A similar communiqué 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”.
In this online response on your web site, you intentionally omitted the highly material information that you actually received a formal reply from the National Security Adviser’s office on 30 July 2014, which directly addressed your concerns and made clear that Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff has launched an investigation and you would be informed of about the report, findings, recommendations, and actions taken. Your answer to the question in your public-relations materials leave no other interpretation but that in response to the concerns raised by Amnesty International, the Government of Nigeria had nothing to say.
Even more offensive, you claim on a technicality that “the President” didn’t respond to your letter. As you obviously know, the President of Nigeria is the elected head of the Executive Branch of our Government. The National Security Adviser works for the President as do all of the other people to whom you sent your letters. The allegations that you put forward deserve an investigation and that is precisely what the Government committed to do as indicated in our prior letter. But to claim that there has been no response from the Government unless every official to whom ‘you wrote sends back a written reply is both unreasonable and not the way any Government conducts business. The Office of the National Security Adviser provided a formal response on behalf of the Nigerian Government and together with the Military is developing a way forward.
We request that you immediately correct your web site and include both the original letter and this follow up letter in full on your web site, under that question. In addition, your intentional omission of exculpatory and material information from your written materials raises serious questions about both the calibre of your investigation in Nigeria and a breach. While the Government will conduct its own investigation, regardless, it is regrettable that we cannot rely on the report as being either fair or objective when such a simple fact about the Government’s response can be misrepresented by Amnesty International.
Firstly, by making the video public and identifying the alleged perpetrators as being with a specific battalion, you have broadcast to those pictured on the video that they are being investigated, giving them time to evade arrest as the Government determines their identities. Secondly, you have made it much more difficult for the Government to identify and interview witnesses, who may now be very worried about the public profile of the case. And thirdly, you also have failed to facilitate our investigation by connecting us directly with witnesses who can shed light on the video.
Suffice it would be recalled that, this isn’t the first time Amnesty International prioritized publicity and fundraising over results. At a prior incident, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser met one of your staff who presented him with a lengthy report with numerous allegations being made against the Government. The National Security Adviser personally committed to investigating the allegations and asked for a few weeks to get back to Amnesty International with a response. But he was told that this wouldn’t be possible. That report was instead published the next day.
Our Security and Law Enforcement Agencies are committed to abiding by the Geneva Conventions and all standard operating procedures designed to maximize the protection of civilians when fighting an armed and hidden insurgency, which blends in with the local population. That said, however, there have indeed been abuses committed where our security and law enforcement operatives failed to abide by those important standards. We are however determined to do better and happily with each passing day we are doing better.
But if Amnesty International really wants to advance justice and accountability for all perpetrators of crimes in Nigeria, then when making accusations against the Government, give us a fair opportunity to investigate allegations of abuse and don’t act in ways that make it easier for perpetrators to evade responsibility for their actions.
Major General SY Bello (rtd) for National Security Advisor