Abuja – The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed worries about the brutal revenge attacks allegedly unleashed by the security operatives on insurgents, which at the same time affect innocent citizens, particularly in the North East.
The Chairperson Governing Council of the Commission, Dr Salamatu Suleiman who stated this in Abuja at a Colloquium on Human Rights in Counter Insurgency Operation in Nigeria observed that the NHRC has recorded numerous complaints of alleged extra judicial killings and other human rights violations of innocent civilians in the course of the counter insurgency operations.
According to Dr Suleiman, under the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, citizens are presumed innocent until proven otherwise and the Military and Citizens have been known to suffer constant human rights violations most times when there is a counter insurgency operation.
These violations, she noted, include right to life, right to freedom of movement, torture, extra judicial executions, inhuman and degrading treatments among others.
Despite the aforesaid challenges, the Chairperson stated that all hope is note lost given the statutory mandate of the NHRC to promote and protect human rights in Nigeria, which the Commission has made a tremendous impact by repositioning human rights protection in the country.
She stressed that the Commission has the mandate to ensure that the state adheres to its obligations and responsibilities in line with international best practices, such as the obligation to respect and protect the right to life of both the military and individuals under their jurisdiction from attacks by armed groups.
“Such an obligation includes taking measures to ensure officers are well trained and equipped to counter insurgents, putting measures to prevent the commission of offences, prompt investigation of human rights and humanitarian law violations and abuses, thorough and independent prosecuting of those found responsible, providing adequate and effective remedies, and preventing the recurrence of violations, etc etc.”, she added.
In his welcome address, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu (SAN) said the colloquium is coming at a time when the terrorists insurgency, banditry and separatists agitations continue to unleash violence on Nigeria.
The Chief Custodian of Human Rights in Nigeria therefore lauded Centre for Democracy and Development (CDC) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for the partnereship in organising the colloquium which is an opportunity for stakeholders to brainstorm on how best to mainstream human rights principles in counter insurgency operations in the country.
According to Ojukwu, Boko Haram insurgency in the North East has led to loss of over 350,000 lives and displacement of more than 2 million people from across the region and other parts of Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
Continuing, the Executive Secretary stated that the Commission under its power in Section 5 (j) of the Act to receive and investigate complaints concerning violations of human rights, and that it has also continued to receive reports of human rights violations by our Armed Forces on civilian.
These human rights violations, the NHRC’s Chief Executive Officer noted, include prolonged detention, bombardments, revenge attacks and extra-judicial killings among others, which the Commission is addressing in line with its mandate.
In his remarks, the Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor assured Nigerians that the Nigerian Military always protect the interest of the civilian populations in its counter insurgency operations in Nigeria and would not embark on any operation that would result in civilian casualties.
The Chief of Defense Staff who was represented at the event by Rear Admiral A. O. Ayobanjo said that in a bid to mainstream human rights in the operations of the military, efforts are usually made by the military authorities to collaborate with the necessary partners like the NHRC and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to continuously train military personnel on human rights principles that are applicable during operations.
In doing this, he disclosed that apart from training Commissioned Officers as was done in the past in counter insurgency operations, non-commissioned Officers now participate in the various human rights training targeted at meanstreaming human rights in military operations and this, he stated has yielded some positive results.
In the same vein, the Chief of Army Staff stated that the Military will not fail in its responsibility to fight the Boko Haram insurgents and ISWAP, which he noted are characterized by destruction of lives and properties of citizens.
Other participants at the colloquium including members of the CSOs, development partners, regional and international human rights networks, etc and they were all united in their concerns that the military has no option than to protect the rights of the civilian populations in its operations, by abiding by the Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct for military personnel.