War Crimes? Not Nigerian Military

It just cannot be true that the Nigerian military engaged in human rights abuses against captured Boko Haram suspected fighters. Nigerian military officers, like all officers of decent militaries, are very familiar with the provisions of Parts I through VI of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war and all of its 143 articles. These are internationally agreed upon standardized rules and guidance on how to handle and treat prisoners of war. Dirty as war can be, the Geneva Convention is a great attempt at sanitizing war so that countries do not behave like beasts on the battlefield.

aggressionBut just as Nigeria’s military begins to celebrate a positive upturn in its war against Boko Haram, Amnesty International (Amnesty) rained on its parade with charges of deaths in custody, starvation, enforced disappearance, dehydration, disease, fumigation, torture and extrajudicial executions. What is more, Amnesty is not even alleging a rogue, lone-actor perpetrator. It is alleging systematic violations of several articles of the Geneva Convention. It alleges that senior Nigerian military officers knew or should have known about these violations. It boldly names former Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, current Chief of Defense Staff, Air Chief Marshal Badeh, immediate past Chief of Army Staff, General Azubuike Ihejirika and current Chief of Army Staff, General Kenneth Minimah, as those who knew or should have known about these atrocities. But Amnesty reserved its strongest and most pointed allegations for Major General John A.H. Ewansiha, Major General Obida Ethnan, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, Brigadier General Austin Edokpayi and Brigadier General Rufus Bamigboye all of whom it accused of “potential individual or command responsibility.”

For some time now, there had been muffled conversations in the diplomatic hallways of the United Nations about how our military had been conducting its war against the terrorists. Those muffled conversations got louder when some western powers refused to provide weapons to Nigeria’s military as long as Goodluck Jonathan was president. The credibility of Jonathan’s government was at its lowest ebb.

If any of these allegations are true, then we have war crimes on our hands. The allegations by themselves have done irreparable damage to the reputations of the officers mentioned, for, no peers of theirs around the world would want to be associated with them because war crimes are brutish and portray cowardice. No respectable organization will want to have them as members. They will forever be avoided like plague. And that is a slap on the wrist compared to real jail time in far away Netherlands if they are convicted. Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari can ill-afford this distraction at this time. Nigeria and Nigerians have been too maligned all over the world to now also wear the tag of brutish cowards who maltreat wounded, disoriented, helpless and unarmed prisoners of wars. But that is exactly what will happen if these accusations gain currency and the rest of the world wants Nigeria to account for what has happened in its POW detentions.

And, by the way, what have our soldiers been doing with the POWs? We hear of battles with Boko Haram and we get numbers of the killed and the wounded. But we rarely ever get numbers of those captured and where they are being kept. Our press has never been invited to see the POWs. The International Red Cross has not reported being given access to any POW. This is common sense: where there is war, there are bound to be POWs. And where there are POWs, the Red Cross must have access to them. Otherwise, there are war crimes being committed.

I have always considered the Geneva Convention articles, especially Articles 1 through 8 listed below, as a huge oxymoron; an attempt to sanitize war which, in every respect, is barbaric and savage. But Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention and we did pledge that we will not, as a Nation State, treat human beings captured (or who have surrendered to us) like animals, even if they, like Boko Haram fighters, are worse than animals. Please familiarize yourself with these unedited key provisions of the Geneva Convention and judge for yourself whether we have done right by our POWs.

Article 1

The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances.

Article 2

In addition to the provisions which shall be implemented in peace time, the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.

The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.

Although one of the Powers in conflict may not be a party to the present Convention, the Powers who are parties thereto shall remain bound by it in their mutual relations. They shall furthermore be bound by the Convention in relation to the said Power, if the latter accepts and applies the provisions thereof.

Article 3

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

  1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

  1. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

Article 4

  1. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
  2. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.
  3. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

  1. Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.
  2. Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.
  3. Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.
  4. Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.
  5. The following shall likewise be treated as prisoners of war under the present Convention:
  6. Persons belonging, or having belonged, to the armed forces of the occupied country, if the occupying Power considers it necessary by reason of such allegiance to intern them, even though it has originally liberated them while hostilities were going on outside the territory it occupies, in particular where such persons have made an unsuccessful attempt to rejoin the armed forces to which they belong and which are engaged in combat, or where they fail to comply with a summons made to them with a view to internment.
  7. The persons belonging to one of the categories enumerated in the present Article, who have been received by neutral or non-belligerent Powers on their territory and whom these Powers are required to intern under international law, without prejudice to any more favourable treatment which these Powers may choose to give and with the exception of Articles 8, 10, 15, 30, fifth paragraph, 58-67, 92, 126 and, where diplomatic relations exist between the Parties to the conflict and the neutral or non-belligerent Power concerned, those Articles concerning the Protecting Power. Where such diplomatic relations exist, the Parties to a conflict on whom these persons depend shall be allowed to perform towards them the functions of a Protecting Power as provided in the present Convention, without prejudice to the functions which these Parties normally exercise in conformity with diplomatic and consular usage and treaties.
  8. This Article shall in no way affect the status of medical personnel and chaplains as provided for in Article 33 of the present Convention.

Article 5

The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation.

Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

Article 8

The present Convention shall be applied with the cooperation and under the scrutiny of the Protecting Powers whose duty it is to safeguard the interests of the Parties to the conflict. For this purpose, the Protecting Powers may appoint, apart from their diplomatic or consular staff, delegates from amongst their own nationals or the nationals of other neutral Powers. The said delegates shall be subject to the approval of the Power with which they are to carry out their duties.

The Parties to the conflict shall facilitate to the greatest extent possible the task of the representatives or delegates of the Protecting Powers.

The representatives or delegates of the Protecting Powers shall not in any case exceed their mission under the present Convention. They shall, in particular, take account of the imperative necessities of security of the State wherein they carry out their duties.

Written by
Abiodun Ladepo
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