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Nigeria: President Ignoring Gravity of Military


HRW Letter to President Obasanjo 

April 18, 2002

Dear President Obasanjo:

I am writing to you in response to comments attributed
to you in recent media reports concerning events in
Benue State in October 2001, and more specifically
concerning the report published by Human Rights Watch
in April 2002, a copy of which we are mailing to you
under separate cover. The report, entitled "Military
Revenge in Benue: A Population Under Attack," contains
details of our investigations in several towns and
villages in Benue State, in which Nigerian soldiers
killed more than two hundred unarmed civilians and
carried out widespread destruction on October 22 to
24, 2001, following the murder of nineteen soldiers
attributed to a Tiv armed group. The report also
clearly condemns the abduction and killing of the

We are very concerned that in public statements and
interviews granted to journalists, including in the
last few days, you do not appear to have acknowledged
the gravity of these killings by the military in Benue
and have focused instead, and almost exclusively, on
the killing of the nineteen soldiers. Yet the reprisal
killings carried out by the army constitute grave
human rights violations, which should receive an
appropriate response from you and your government, in
line with Nigeria's obligations under international
human rights law.

Most recently, in a report by the United Nations
Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on
April 17, based on information from the Panafrican
News Agency PANA, you are quoted as saying: "I have
dismissed the [Human Rights Watch] report with the
contempt it deserves because it failed to condemn the
killing of soldiers who were sent to separate the
feuding Jukuns and Tivs. [.] Is it only when soldiers
kill civilians that you talk about human rights? Were
the nineteen soldiers beheaded not human beings?"

This is a misrepresentation of our report, which
states clearly, on page 3: "Human Rights Watch also
strongly condemns the abduction, killing, and
mutilation of the nineteen soldiers on October 10 and
urges that those responsible for those acts be brought
to justice. However, the brutality of that incident
cannot justify the killings and destruction in the
military reprisals that followed." The report also
describes the background to the deployment of the
soldiers in the area and includes a section on the
conflict between Tivs and Jukuns (section V, pages 16
to 18).

We deeply regret that in addition to misrepresenting
the contents of our report, you still appear to be
refusing to condemn publicly the massacre and
destruction by the Nigerian military or to give a
firm, unambiguous commitment to bringing those
responsible to justice.

In an interview with the Financial Times, on 9 April
2002, you similarly failed to condemn these actions,
speaking instead about "cause and effect." Referring
to the murder of the nineteen soldiers, you are quoted
as saying: "You don't expect me to fold my hands and
do nothing because tomorrow neither soldiers nor
policemen will go anywhere I send them. I sent
soldiers. When you send soldiers they do not go there
on picnic. They went on operation." You are also
quoted as saying to the journalist who asked you what
had gone wrong in Benue: "This is the kind of thing
one finds really irritating coming from people like
you. Those soldiers, are they not human? Have they no
rights, too? [.] Action and reaction are not equal and
opposite [.] In human nature, reaction is always more
than action."

Such comments do not inspire confidence that those
responsible for the massacres will be brought to
justice. We are aware that a commission of inquiry has
been set up to investigate events in Benue, and we
await its outcome; however, we are concerned about the
vagueness of its remit and the absence of any specific
reference to the need to investigate the actions of
the military.

In the meantime, by seeming to excuse one of the most
serious cases of human rights violations by the army
since your government came to power, such public
statements on the Benue massacres are likely to
undermine any attempts to restore respect for human
rights in Nigeria.

Human Rights Watch is appealing to you and to the
Nigerian government to acknowledge that serious
violations were committed by the military in Benue, to
refrain from making public statements which could be
interpreted as justifications for these violations,
and to ensure that those responsible for ordering and
carrying out the killings are brought to justice
without delay. We also urge you to implement the other
recommendations in the enclosed report and we would be
grateful for information from your government on any
progress made, particularly concerning investigation
and prosecution.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director
Africa Division


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