These recommendations refer primarily to human rights violations committed by the military in Benue State since October 22, 2001. 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 Nigerian federal government, at the highest level, has a clear responsibility for these grave human rights violations by the military, especially as the operation was clearly planned in advance with a view to taking revenge on the civilian population of the area. The massacres in Benue constitute a clear violation of Nigeria's international obligations. Nigeria is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), article 6 of which states: "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." The actions of the Nigerian military and the failure of the government so far to take any action to bring those responsible to justice also disregard the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, the most authoritative and comprehensive guidelines for governments on the investigation and prevention of extrajudicial executions.2
- Set up a prompt, independent, and impartial criminal investigation into the killings and destruction by the military in Gbeji, Zaki-Biam, and other locations in Benue State on October 22 to 24, 2001, and publish the results of the investigation. The criminal investigation should not wait until the commission of inquiry begins its work. It should identify the persons responsible for ordering the military reprisal operation and those who carried out the killings and destruction, and should lead to prosecution of these individuals without delay. In the meantime, these individuals should immediately be suspended from duty.
- Ensure that investigations into the killings in Benue, as well as the work of the commission of inquiry, conform to the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. These Principles provide guidelines for thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into cases of extrajudicial executions, as well as for independent commissions of inquiry in cases where established investigative procedures are inadequate.
Principle 17 states: "A written report shall be made within a reasonable period of time on the methods and findings of such investigations. The report shall be made public immediately and shall include the scope of the inquiry, procedures and methods used to evaluate evidence as well as conclusions and recommendations based on findings of fact and on applicable law. [...] The Government shall, within a reasonable period of time, either reply to the report of the investigation, or indicate the steps taken in response to it." Principle 18 states: "Governments shall ensure that persons identified by the investigation as having participated in extra-legal, arbitrary or summary executions in any territory under their jurisdiction are brought to justice."
- Invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to conduct her own separate investigation into the killings by the Nigerian military in Benue.
- Provide compensation for people whose homes or sources of livelihood were arbitrarily destroyed by the military and enable them to rebuild their homes. Ensure the speedy reconstruction of other buildings and infrastructure which were destroyed during the military operation.
- Investigate reports of rape, ill-treatment, and harassment by soldiers in Benue since October 2001, and ensure that those found responsible are brought to justice.
- Immediately withdraw from active duty soldiers suspected of having committed human rights violations, including killings, rape, ill-treatment, harassment and extortion, pending investigation.
- Take measures to ensure that in the event of future cases where members of the security forces are abducted or killed, the army does not retaliate by targeting the civilian population.
- Investigate reports that mobile police and soldiers have participated in attacks on civilians and destruction of homes in the course of the conflict in which Tivs oppose Jukuns, particularly in Taraba State, and bring to justice those found responsible. Issue clear instructions to the security forces that they have a duty to protect the civilian population in its entirety, without distinction, regardless of ethnic, political or other affiliations, and to refrain from taking sides in this or any other intercommunal conflict.
- Provide humanitarian assistance to the large number of people displaced by the conflict.
- Continue actively to seek measures to resolve this conflict and to reconcile the different communities affected to ensure that people are able to return to their homes safely.
- Ensure that any commissions of inquiry set up to study this or other conflicts in Nigeria include a review of the role of the security forces in these conflicts.
- Issue a strong, public condemnation of the killings and destruction by the Nigerian military in Benue on October 22-24 2001. Ensure that any future instances of serious human rights violations by the Nigerian government are raised publicly, not only in private demarches. Remind the Nigerian Government of its obligations to prevent extrajudicial executions under international human rights law and in particular the treaties it has ratified, including the ICCPR.
- Insist that the Nigerian authorities carry out a prompt and independent investigation into the killings and destruction, leading to the swift prosecution of those responsible for ordering the operation and perpetrating these abuses.
- Urge the Nigerian government and military authorities to refrain from any similar reprisal actions in the future or other forms of collective punishment directed at communities defined by ethnicity.
- Assist the Nigerian government in providing humanitarian assistance to the tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Taraba and neighbouring states.
- Governments providing military training, weapons or other military equipment to the Nigerian security forces should link all such assistance to measurable progress in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the killings and destruction in Benue in 2001, as well as those responsible for the killings and destruction in Odi, in Bayelsa state, in 1999. These will be two critical steps in proving the Nigerian government's commitment to ending the impunity which still protects the military.
- Governments such as the U.S. and the U.K. which have been strengthening their relations with Nigeria should use this framework of cooperation as an opportunity to persuade the Nigerian government to respect human rights and redress violations whenever they occur.
2 The U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions were recommended by Economic and Social Council resolution 1989/65 of 24 May 1989. Paragraph 1 of the resolution recommends that the Principles be taken into account and respected by governments within the framework of their national legislation and practices.