Reuters: “Uneasy Allies — As the West backs Nigeria’s war on insurgents, it backs off on human rights”

Reuters, Dec. 28, 2022 — “The U.S. and the UK have long struggled with a dilemma in Nigeria: How to support the government in its war with Islamist insurgents while holding the military to account for mounting evidence of abuses against civilians,” explain Reuters London-based reporters David Lewis, Reade Levinson, and Libby George. “Washington and London continue to back the military as security worries – and geopolitical and economic considerations – repeatedly prevail.”

For their comprehensive, multi-article investigation, the reporters explained that since 2000, the United States has provided at least 41,027 training slots for Nigerian military personnel, many focusing on compliance with international law and appropriate use of weapons to mitigate civilian harm, according to a May 2022 report about Nigeria and its military by Brown University and others.

However, continued reports of harm inflicted by Nigerian security forces, including civilian casualties and sexual violence, suggest “that trainings provided by the U.S. and others have been insufficient in either quantity and scope or have not been appropriately targeted,” the report found.

The reporters interviewed Karen Hanrahan, who oversaw implementation of the Leahy Laws as a State Department official in the Obama administration.

Karen told Reuters that she, like Page, pushed for greater emphasis on human rights compliance in Nigeria.

The Nigerian government wanted more advanced technology “that we knew, based objectively on all of the evidence, that they would have used to be more brutal,” said Hanrahan, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor. But the Nigerians were adept at pushing back on international pressure, she said, and invoked the legacy of colonialism.

They said “that we should understand the situation they’re in and what they have to do because they’re fighting terrorists,” Hanrahan said.

The bottom line, said some veteran diplomats, is the Nigerian military often got what it wanted.

“What they wanted is hardware, the attack aircraft and so forth, and I think they sort of roll their eyes at the lectures about human rights,” said Alex Thurston, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and former desk officer at the State Department.

In comments to Reuters in November, Major General Musa said Nigerian security forces have been respectful of human rights but are still not receiving enough international help to defeat the insurgents.

“The Nigerian armed forces is doing all the best to be very professional, to be able to end this menace,” he said. “But unfortunately, we’re not getting the right support from even the Western world. And it’s very, very, extremely, very sad.”

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