The Nigerian army has established an office of human rights at its headquarters in the capital, Abuja, to continue training officers about the need to respect the rights of citizens in the ongoing fight against Islamic insurgent group Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups, according to military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman.
Usman's comments came after high-ranking officials of the army, including army chief of staff Tukur Buratai, met with Amnesty International about concerns the rights organization raised in its recent report.
The report accused the Nigerian army of gross human rights violations in the fight against Boko Haram militants in parts of Nigeria’s north.
Residents of areas attacked by Boko Haram militants often accused soldiers of human rights violations. The military usually denies the accusation.
“We have been treating both Boko Haram suspects and the victims with respect and dignity, as humanly possible,” Usman said.
He said the army has investigated and punished officers accused of committing human rights abuses in the amnesty report.
He also said the Nigerian army led by the chief of army staff took proactive measures including consulting the Nigeria Bar Association as well as the national human rights commission in the country.
Usman said the Nigerian army respects human rights despite criticisms that officers routinely commit human rights violations without being punished.
“We realized in one of the seminars that there was the need to have a human rights desk, a kind of contact person to interface with allegations of human rights abuses by our officers or soldiers," he said.
"We were able to establish one at the army headquarters for the time being. ... But we are making effort really, to move it outside the barracks from the military environment so that people will feel at will to submitting their complaints whenever such things arise,” Usman said.
He also said it is regrettable that some soldiers will engage in human rights violations despite the army’s laid down procedures prohibiting personnel from engaging in such acts.
Usman said the arm’s human rights office would welcome complaints or feedback from people who feel aggrieved on human rights violations committed by soldiers.
“We have been training soldiers both locally and abroad,” he said. “Beyond that we have also included the teaching of human rights and humanitarian law in all our training schools.
"We have also opened liaison with the Nigerian human rights commission, and the Nigerian bar association. ... The whole essence is to enhance our performance, especially as regards to respect and protection of human rights either in peace time or in war time or during operations," he added.
Some human rights groups said they expect a bit of resistance from soldiers who are on the front lines fighting Boko Haram because they, some of them, have been getting away with rights violations over the years.
Report on fellow soldiers
They called on the army to encourage soldiers to feel free to report their comrades who commit rights violations without the fear of victimization by their superiors.
“We have been talking to opinion leaders, [and] we have also in our own way [been] sensitizing the public,"he said. "With the establishment of the human rights desk, it is just not enough to be at the army headquarters. It is going down to the various formations and units of the Nigerian army, so that the public will be aware.
And if anybody has any complaints about human rights abuses, to the contact person,” Usman said.