A special Nigerian human rights panel began investigating on Tuesday recent Reuters reports that the army massacred children and ran a secret abortion programme when fighting insurgents and said it would refer for prosecution those it considered guilty of rights violations.
The Nigerian military has denied the reports and said it would not carry out an investigation because they were not true.
Anthony Ojukwu, executive secretary of the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), publicly launched the seven-member investigation panel led by a retired Supreme Court judge in Abuja.
Ojukwu said the investigations followed “allegations of gross human rights violations contained in the three-part report published in December 2022 on military operations in the northeast by media group Reuters”.
The panel’s chairman Justice Abdu Aboki, who retired from the Supreme Court bench last year, told reporters: “It is now our job as a panel to investigate all the allegations of gross human rights violations raised in the reports.”
NHRC has no powers to prosecute human rights violators’ but can recommend prosecution for offenders.
The panel has six responsibilities, including determining the culpability of individuals and institutions in the alleged rights violations and referring any violators requiring prosecution to the Attorney General, says Ojukwu.
The panel would also determine damages or compensation in relation to any violation of human rights, he says. Ojukwu did not say how long the investigations would take.
Although largely independent, rights groups say the NHRC is inadequately funded and its lack of prosecuting powers has weakened its ability to effectively bring offenders to book. Aboki says the panel had experience in human rights, law, military intelligence, humanitarian response and medicine.
A retired major general, Letam Wiwa, who previously served as head of military intelligence, is a member of the panel. He is younger brother to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Niger Delta activist who was executed by the military in 1995.
“We will be fair and just too all manner of persons who appear before us as victims, witness, respondent, officers, Counsel and citizens,” Aboki says before leading members in a closed-door meeting.
An army colonel was appointed as liaison between the investigating panel and the military. Reuters reported in December, based on dozens of witness accounts and documentation, that the military abortion programme involved terminating at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls, many of whom had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants.
On December 12, again citing dozens of witnesses, Reuters reported that the army intentionally killed children in the war, under a presumption they were, or would become, terrorists.
Nigerian military leaders said the abortion program did not exist and that children were never targeted for killing.