Amnesty International, Boko Haram and human rights
Against the background of its 2015/2016 Annual Report in which it raises questions on the appalling human rights situation across the globe and scores Nigeria low as an abuser of human rights, it is pertinent to state that the ombudsman mission of Amnesty International in promoting and protecting human rights must not risk being derailed into an incendiary and partisan goal. For now, lopsided views, shortsighted and hasty conclusions, some not backed by facts are AI’s hallmark instead of bold objectivity in the pursuit of its vision.
No doubt, international law and human norms demand that Nigeria as a state and Nigerians as a people eschew every form of man’s inhumanity to man. Hence perennial cases of police brutality, high-handedness by security officials, a criminal justice system which has failed, with many innocent citizens wasting away in illegal detentions, and state-backed maltreatment of citizens, call for holistic reforms of the structures and institutions of democracy.
There have been reports of arbitrary brutalisation of persons such as the recent one when two soldiers attacked a lawyer, Adeyemi Akintoye “for walking slowly on the road” and dispossessed him of money and other valuable items. Also, the other day, the military was reported to have killed five people when uniformed men opened fire on some agitators for the state of Biafra who were demonstrating in Onitsha, Anambra State. All these are inhuman and illegal.
Indeed these and many other cases may be real but must not be isolated or exaggerated to denigrate the sovereignty and humanity of a nation.
In diagnosing the state of human rights in Nigeria and Africa in general, Amnesty International must not be seen to draw its evaluations and conclusions through narrow and coloured lens.
Nigeria’s war against insurgency and the Boko Haram phenomenon is a peculiar one which Amnesty International ought to see as a battle not only to safe-guard Nigeria’s territorial integrity but to save humanity from terror.
But in an obvious display of bias, AI has chosen to exhibit only extra-judicial killings, extortion, arbitrary and prolonged detention as the norm in Nigeria. It went ahead to see nothing wrong with the atrocious maiming and killing of Nigerian citizens by members of the Boko-Haram Islamic sect. Rather AI condemns Nigeria’s military campaign and defense of her territorial integrity by alleging that “the military committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in its response to Boko Haram between 2011 and 2015.”
AI’s seeming complicity with a murderous organisation is spelt out in its previous reports on the activities of the Nigerian military against the insurgent group. In its 2015 report, it described Nigerian Army Generals in such emotive terms as men with “Stars on their shoulders and blood on the hands,” It alleged that since March 2011, more than 700 young men and boys died in military detention and more than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed. This, to say the least, is an insult to Nigeria.
The founding principles of Amnesty International; namely, “human rights for all”, “better to light the candle than cause darkness”, “independence of any political ideology, economic interest or religion” and “exposing the facts whenever and wherever abuses happen” would seem to have lost salience in the face of AI’s silence over the abduction of over 250 school girls from Chibok community in the Northeast of Nigeria and the killing of thousands of innocent people, as well as wanton destruction of property in the country by the insurgents. Indeed, conflicting and contradictory statements of AI about Nigeria are not befitting of an international umpire of justice in the world.
Amnesty International now has a huge credibility problem resulting from its inability to find a balance between the civil liberties of people and the national security needs of sovereign independent nations as evidenced in its retreat from its guiding principle that “AI neither supports nor condemns a government policy of using military force in fighting against armed opposition movements, when an opposition group tortures or kills its captives, takes hostages, or commits deliberate and arbitrary killings.” The position of AI in Nigeria’s war against Boko-Haram now, therefore, undermines those ideals.
The cases of human rights abuses by governments of developed countries against their citizens and their wars against terrorism have curiously, not merited AI’s attention. In the United States, the violence and injustice inflicted on the basis of colour and race have seen the African-American population coming under the hammer of dehumanisation or the worst human rights abuse possible.
That AI looks the other way from the atrocities committed by the U.S and its allies in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other theatres of war, with innocent civilians, including women and children bearing the brunt of their violence, strengthens the argument of criminal international complicity and ambiguous ethics against it.
AI must routinely seek to live by its credo that “only when the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, when the last torture chamber has been closed, when the United Nations universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done”.
Until this is uniformly, evenly and fairly applied to all corners of the world, justice is not achieved and the work of AI would remain under a cloud of suspicion.