The federal government has warned members of the armed forces including the military service chiefs and commanders, that it will not spare any officer found culpable in human rights violation in the course of their internal security operations.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) gave this warning yesterday during the â€˜International Seminar on the Imperatives of the Observance of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Norms in Internal Security Operationsâ€™, which was jointly organised by his office and the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) at National Defence College (NDC), Abuja.
Adoke stated that the rationale for the seminar was to ensure that the concerted efforts to address Nigeriaâ€™s security challenges do not only conform to law, but are also in tandem with acceptable international standards.
He said: â€œAs Attorney-General of the Federation, I am particularly concerned about the way and manner members of the armed forces discharge their responsibilities. Within the context of our current security challenges: I wish to reaffirm governmentâ€™s determination to hold members of the armed forces, as well as other security forces to the highest professional and ethical standards. They must adhere strictly to applicable rules of engagement and eschew acts of impunity.
â€œI therefore wish to caution that any member of the armed forces found wanting in the observance of applicable rules of engagement during internal security operations would be held accountable.â€
â€œWhile your role in war against terrorism and insurrection is greatly appreciated by all and sundry, government will not shield any officer, no matter how highly placed, from prosecution and application of appropriate sanctions for unprofessional acts and transgressions committed in the course of internal security operations.â€
Adoke noted that while the military has been effective in maintaining law and order, restoring normalcy to many crises area across the country experience has shown that their intervention sometimes engender negative reactions from the affected communities on account of the loss of lives and property, associated with the alleged use of excessive force.
According to him, allegations of human rights abuses and non-adherence to applicable rules of engagement levelled against those involved in quelling crises coupled with adverse reports from human rights advocates have tended to put the country on the spotlight in the international community.
The attorney-general, reminded the armed forces that the carnage at Odi, Bayelsa and Zaki Biam, Benue States, in 2001, in addition to the extra-judicial killing of Mallam Yusuf Mohammed, leader of Boko Haram sect in 2009 has come with heavy financial and material cost on the part of the federal government.
â€œThe point being made is that government can ill-afford to bear these huge financial liabilities in the face of increasing responsibilities.
The declaration of state of emergency in Jos, Plateau State in 2004 and recently in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States in 2013 and accompanying massive troop deployments to these states have also elicited negative reactions.
â€œ You will recall the Baga incident in Bornu State, which the Joint Task Force (JTF) was unjustifiably criticised even when it was clear that the facts were misrepresented and largely exaggerated in the print and electronic media thereby causing enormous damage to the reputation of the armed forces in particular and the human rights record of the country in general,â€ he said.
Adoke also disclosed that the civil disturbances in some parts of the country, militancy in Niger-Delta and the terrorist activities of Boko Haram sect have been under preliminary analysis by the Office of the Trial Prosecutor (OPT), acting under Article 5 of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
He also drew attention to the fact that the prosecutor has since proceeded to the admissibility stage of determining whether Nigeria is â€˜willing and ableâ€™ to prosecute the perpetrators of theses crimes.
â€œThe prosecutorâ€™s recent report of November 2013 also made profound findings in respect of the Nigerian situation as it confirmed that the incessant attacks and exchanges between the Boko Haram sect and security forces in Nigeria have attained the threshold of a non-International armed conflict and that as from May 2013, those adjudged to be â€˜combatantsâ€™ could be held accountable for war crimes under Article 8(2) (c) of the Rome Statue of the ICC (that is grave violations of the common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions),â€ he said.
Also speaking to journalists, the Chief Prosecutor, Office of the Trial Prosecutor, ICC, Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, confirmed that the ongoing internal security operations in Nigeria has been classified non-International armed conflict.
According to Bensouda, the implication is that human rights violators including members of the armed forces and Boko Haram insurgents could be prosecuted by ICC.
However, giving Vote of thanks, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh explained that the military is faced with an unconventional warfare.
Badeh assured that while military will ensure compliance with rules of engagement and observe human rights and also operate within the confines of the law, people should appreciate the fact that they are dealing with enemies that have no defined boundaries and hides under the civil populace.