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Panel to investigate military crimes must be impartial — Amnesty International

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The Nigerian government must ensure a presidential investigative panel set up to investigate human rights violations by Nigeria’s military is independent, impartial and effective, the Amnesty International has said.

The panel is set, from Monday, to “review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, especially in local conflict and insurgency situations.”

Stakeholders, affected persons, institutions and the public in Nigeria have been asked to voluntarily submit memorandum to the panel, which will conduct hearings from 11 September 2017.

Amnesty International has been documenting gross and massive violations and abuses committed by all sides to the non-international armed conflict in the North-East of the country as well as human rights violations in the rest of the country, including evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

The organisation has previously named and called on the Nigerian government to investigate 9 high ranking military officials for potential individual and command responsibility. Amnesty International’s findings have been published in successive reports published from 2012 to 2016.

“The establishment of this investigative panel is an opportunity for Nigeria to ensure justice for victims of the countless allegations of war crimes by the military in the country – and it must not be wasted,” said Osai Ojigho, Director Amnesty International Nigeria.

“However, the panel will only be able to achieve these goals if international standards and best practices on thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations are guaranteed and implemented”, said Ojigho.

The panel has published its Terms of Reference, which is a first step towards ensuring transparency. However, there is lack clarity as to the panel’s mandate, working methods and the scope of the investigations. The panel should also publicly clarify the procedures that will be followed during the hearings and whether the findings would be made public.

In particular, the ToR lack reference to concrete measures to protect victims and other witnesses who will be testifying or submitting evidence during the hearing.

“As a starting point, it is crucial that victims and witnesses are protected from harassment, threats, ill-treatment or reprisals to ensure they can make submissions to the panel without fear,” said Ojigho.

Amnesty International has submitted a memorandum to the panel outlining the findings of its years of research relevant to the investigations.

It is also calling on the Nigerian authorities to ensure the panel has the resources to facilitate its work and protect its independence.

These include adequate financial support, plus expertise in criminal investigation, forensic analysis, legal analysis, witness protection, gender advice and data management.

“The Nigerian government’s responsibilities go beyond merely investigating these human rights violations; it must also ensure the panel has the mandate to make recommendations to bring the perpetrators of these violations to justice,” said Osai Ojigho.

It is also vital that the panel to makes its findings public – unlike in previous investigations – to ensure full transparency and accountability.

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