The U.S. government should call on President Olusegun Obasanjo to ensure thorough and credible investigations and prosecutions for human rights abuses by the Nigerian armed forces.
President Obasanjo is on a state visit to Washington, D.C. and will be meeting with President George W. Bush and U.S. government officials, who should reiterate the need for the Nigerian military to adhere to international human rights standards.
The U.S. military is eager to have Nigeria, the largest country in West Africa, take up peacekeeping duties in war-torn countries in the region, such as Sierra Leone. But Human Rights Watch has documented war crimes committed by Nigerian peacekeepers in Sierra Leone in January 1999, as well as atrocities within Nigeria itself.
"The Nigerian military has been responsible for serious abuses," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "If the United States wants to make the Nigerians a partner in peacekeeping, they have to demonstrate a real commitment to human rights."
The Nigerian military has a history of serious human rights abuse, including under the current civilian government. In November 1999, the army destroyed the small town of Odi, in Bayelsa State, in the heart of the oil-producing area of the Niger Delta, following the murder of twelve policemen by a gang of youths based in the town. The army killed hundreds of people - possibly more than 2,000 - the great majority of them unarmed.
The lack of accountability for this massacre is reflected in ongoing human rights abuses by the security forces, including summary executions and arbitrary arrests of members of groups pressing for greater autonomy for the southwest and southeast of the country.
President Obasanjo recently fired the three heads of the armed services in Nigeria, reportedly for reasons linked to their opposition to US training of Nigerian troops, which included a human rights element.