Loranchet [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

July 26, 2017; This Is Africa

A nonprofit human rights group based in Nigeria claimed that the accusations of crimes and human rights abuse made by Amnesty International (AI) against the Nigerian government are detrimental to the fight against terrorist organization Boko Haram, and ultimately constitute crimes. The group, Save Humanity Advocacy Centre (SHAC), is taking AI to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to resolve the problem.

SHAC accused AI of “criminal conspiracy in aiding the insurgents to commit what they described as crimes against humanity,” according to The Post.

This Is Africa noted that “On 20 March 2017, a group of protesters barricaded the Abuja office of Amnesty International (AI), harassed and intimidated its staff, and asked the organization to quit Nigeria within 24 hours.”

Amnesty International reports on crimes and abuse perpetrated by both Boko Haram and the government security forces that fight them. The protestors represented by SHAC and other groups allege that whenever AI reports crimes and abuse by the government, Boko Haram attacks increase, and that therefore AI’s reports endanger the Nigerian people. SHAC and other groups complain that AI’s accusations undermine national security agencies and embolden terrorist organizations. AI estimates that 14.8 million Nigerians have been affected by this conflict, and two million of them are internally displaced.

Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar, acting director of Directorate of Defence Information, denied accusations of government violence in a statement, saying, “They were contrived lies orchestrated to blackmail and ridicule the Nigerian Armed Forces.”

A 2013 report from the ICC alleged that

In June 2011, President Jonathan sent a Joint Task Force comprised of military, police, immigration and intelligence personnel to address the security threat posed by Boko Haram. Security forces have allegedly committed crimes, including extrajudicial killings, torture and other forms of ill treatment as well as pillage and destruction of property.

Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria said in June,

We maintain that the nine senior commanders named in our report should be the subject of an effective and independent investigation. To this end we welcome the panel’s recommendation that there should be a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into these allegations of horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in north east Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari promised an independent investigation into our allegations of human rights violations and crimes under international law two years ago… We maintain that those suspected of committing human rights violations and crimes under international law on all sides of the conflict must be brought to justice.

Vanguard quoted the Executive Secretary of SHAC, Comrade Ibrahim Abubakar, saying, “Despite the widely circulated videos of Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria, Amnesty International has not condemned it or deemed it necessary to show any iota of sympathy, implying the citizens of our country do not deserve sympathy in their reckoning.”

Of course, it’s not true that Amnesty International hasn’t condemned Boko Haram; they condemn war crimes, civilian casualties, and other violence wherever they occur, irrespective of the group responsible. However, some Nigerians feel that by failing to back the government efforts to crack down on terrorism, AI has implicitly sanctioned the terrorists.

Nigeria deals with inter-territorial wars, as well as with Boko Haram. The southeast portion, populated largely by Igbo people, views itself as the independent state known as Biafra; in fact, this very month, they are attempting to construct an independent interim government. The southwestern part of the country largely accepted the imposition of Christianity by the British colonial rulers, while the north resisted and remained largely Muslim. As Encyclopedia Britannica notes, “To prevent any united opposition to its authority, the British adopted a divide-and-rule policy, keeping Nigerian groups separate from one another as much as possible,” fostering an internal distrust that continues to create problems today. The north and south were separately governed territories until 1914, and Nigeria remained under British control until 1960. President Muhammadu Buhari is a Muslim from the north and many Igbo claim that he has unfairly discriminated against them, prompting the rebirth of the Biafra movement.

All of these internal conflicts have stressed Nigeria’s democratic government, even before the arrival of Boko Haram, whose abduction of over 300 schoolgirls from Chibok provoked an international outcry.

Residual resentment of Western interference in their governments is not uncommon among leaders of former colonies in Africa, and large groups like AI or even the United Nations don’t have spotless records. Of course, it’s a big jump to go from calling an intervention ineffective to accusing an NGO of crimes against humanity. AI’s work in the complicated situation on the ground just got a little tougher.—Erin Rubin