Booker, Paul Raise Alarms to State Department Over Nigerian Arms Deal
No deal until Nigeria investigates instances of possible war crimes, human rights abusesJune 8, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) raised alarms to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over the planned sale of weaponized aircraft to the Nigerian government. The Senators cited multiple incidents in which the Nigerian military had flouted the laws of war, leading to concerns around how these additional weapons would be put to use. Booker is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.
The Senators urged Tillerson to require the Nigerian government to demonstrate progress in investigating these incidents before completing the aircraft sale.
“We are concerned that the decision to proceed with this sale will empower the government to backtrack even further on its commitments to human rights, accountability, and upholding international humanitarian law, which in turn could spur greater unrest and violence, particularly in the northeastern part of the country,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Tillerson. “Instead we recommend you make clear to President Buhari that the sale of these aircraft can proceed only if there is positive and measurable progress on reforming the security institutions.”
In 2015, credible organizations found the General Officer in command of the Nigerian army to have launched an unjustified attack against a group of Shia Muslims, leading to a massacre of at least 347 Nigerians. Earlier this year, the Nigerian Air Force attacked a displaced persons camp, resulting in the death of at least 236 of Nigeria’s most vulnerable civilians; the government claims the attack was a mistake.
Senator Booker has been a leader in the Senate for promoting accountability abroad and upholding international human rights standards. Last month, he joined a group of a dozen Senators denouncing President Trump’s praise of Philippines’ dictator Rodrigo Duterte, whose government engages in a brutal campaign of extrajudicial murders. Earlier this year, he led a letter to Tillerson questioning the Secretary’s commitment to human rights after the State Department broke with precedent by not participating in the public release of the Department’s annual Human Rights Report.
Last year, Senator Booker was part of a bipartisan group of Senators that voted to block a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia because of concerns over the country’s targeting of Yemen civilians.
Full text of the letter is below.
June 8, 2017
The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
We are writing to convey our concerns regarding reports that you intend to proceed with plans to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircrafts, with mounted machine guns and related parts and logistical support, to help the Nigerian government combat Boko Haram. We request that before you approve this sale, you brief us on the steps Nigeria has taken to investigate and hold accountable those that have committed human rights abuses. We believe the security threats Nigeria is facing are very real but that a sale of this nature, and at this time, is ill-advised. Boko Haram – a 5,000 to 10,000 strong insurgent force with ties to the Islamic State – will not be defeated through expanded air power alone.
Despite your comments that values will not impact national security policies, we believe proceeding without any clear indications of progress from the Nigerian government on the protection of human rights and enforcement of accountability would run contrary to our national security objectives.
With proper training of pilots, the sale of more sophisticated aircraft could lead to more accurate targeting of insurgents by the Nigerian Air Force and potentially a reduction of civilian casualties. But there is evidence that the Nigerian military routinely flouts the laws of war and there remains an absence of adequate safeguards and accountability mechanisms. This means that the Tucano aircraft could be used in a manner inconsistent with international human rights and humanitarian law – and that ultimately helps to strengthen Boko Haram.
Given that the Nigerian military still lacks the ability to mount a sophisticated counterinsurgency cooperation combining group and air assets, and the A-29 airframes will not be ready for delivery for at least another year at the earliest, we see no rush to complete the sale. Because this sale is an important point of leverage to encourage critical reforms necessary to defeat Boko Haram, we recommend that you require the Nigerian government to complete these steps before proceeding with the sale. Some of the important and specific benchmarks that would show progress include:
· Progress from the authorities in Abuja on the Kaduna government’s investigation into the December 2015 alleged massacre on Shiite Muslims in the northeastern town of Zaria, where at least 347 members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a Shia Muslim group, were killed by army soldiers. Credible organizations found that the army’s attack was unjustified. An investigation launched by the local Kaduna government found the General Officer in command of the army to have authorized the massacre and recommended prosecution. Nearly a year after this report was published, there has been no follow-up from the federal government in Abuja. Authorities also failed to comply with a court order for the release of the movement’s leader, Ibraheem El Zakzaky, and his wife who remain in detention without charges since December 2015.
· Completion of the investigation into the January 2017 attack on a displaced persons camp in Rann, northeastern Nigeria, by the Nigerian Air Force, which killed at least 236 people and injured thousands more. The government was quick to acknowledge the attack, which officials said was an accident, and agreed to undertake an investigation but it has yet to be finalized and then made available to the public. Even if it was accidental, the Rann incident demonstrates the urgent need for safeguards and accountability.
· Progress on a fair investigation into the 2014 killing by the Nigerian security forces of over 600 people, on the heels of Boko Haram’s attack on Giwa army barracks. Hundreds of mostly unarmed detainees, including children, were killed in extrajudicial executions and likely buried in mass graves around the city.
At the same time, there continues to be additional allegations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct throughout the Nigerian military. While some soldiers have been released or retired, there has yet to be any real or meaningful accountability for the systemic challenges that have plagued Nigeria’s security forces for decades. Without addressing these problems at an institutional level, reform is merely cosmetic and will only perpetuate longstanding patterns of abuse, which could serve as propaganda for Boko Haram and other insurgent groups seeking to discredit the Nigerian government.
We are concerned that the decision to proceed with this sale will empower the government to backtrack even further on its commitments to human rights, accountability, and upholding international humanitarian law, which in turn could spur greater unrest and violence, particularly in the northeastern part of the country. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to reconsider your decision to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircrafts to Nigeria without any meaningful reform or any clear safeguards in place. Instead we recommend you make clear to Abuja that the sale of these aircraft can proceed only if there is positive and measurable progress on reforming the security institutions.
Cory A. Booker Rand Paul
United States Senator United States Senator