Growing Opposition to US sale of Attack Aircraft to Nigeria

Should the United States sell attack aircraft to Nigeria? The following letter, signed by an unusual cross-section of advocacy organizations, was sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Dear Chairman Corker, Senator Cardin, Chairman Royce and Representative Engel,

We the undersigned organizations are writing to convey our concerns regarding reports that the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, with mounted machine guns and related part and logistical support to the government of Nigeria. We believe that without concrete evidence that the Nigerian government is taking action to protect human rights and enforce accountability, this transfer is a mistake.

In June of 2016 we expressed concerns over the same proposed sale to President Obama, citing the lack of adequate safeguards and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the Tucano aircraft would be used consistently with international human rights and humanitarian law by the Nigerian military.  We reiterate those concerns now and ask that you take steps to limit the risks that equipment supplied by the US will be used to commit violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Our message to the Obama administration was that the US should insist on securing robust, end use monitoring commitments, safeguards against further human rights violations, and other credible and measurable progress on accountability within the Nigerian security forces.  These recommendations were offered with the aim of ensuring that the United States did not inadvertently facilitate the commission of human rights abuses in Nigeria and to try and help turn the page on the culture impunity within the Nigerian military before making a final decision to move forward with the sale.

Super Tucano aircraft (photo: DOD)

In the letter we sent to the Obama administration on June 1, 2016 we listed several incidents of human rights violations that indicated a systemic failure to respect human rights and enforce accountability within the Nigerian security forces (see attached).  Unfortunately, to date there has been no progress towards investigating any of those past incidents or bringing persons responsible for those abuses to justice.   Indeed, in 2017 new concerns have arisen with the January 2017 bombing of a remote displaced persons camp in Rann, close to the border with Cameroon.   That action by the Nigerian Air Force killed at least 126 people (and possibly as many as 200), and it demonstrates the urgency of implementing safeguards and monitoring. Although a panel appointed by the Nigerian Air Force to investigate the tragedy presented its report to the Chief of Air Force in April, the report is yet to be made public and speculations about the bombing are rife. The Chief of Air Force has stated that the bombing was a human error. However, witnesses claim that the fighter jet circled the camp before it bombed the camp at least twice.

In view of the continuing patterns of abuse and potential for misuse of US-supplied equipment, and as a first step to accountability, the U.S. Congress should insist that the Nigerian government undertake independent investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by the military.  Any such reports on human rights violations by the military in northeast Nigeria should be released, including on the Rann bombing. Further, all victims should receive full reparation, including financial compensation.

As regards the intended transfer of the Tucano aircraft, Congress should ensure that Nigerian military personnel involved in its operation and command will be vetted carefully in full compliance with provisions of the Leahy Law, in order to screen out those responsible for past human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.  Moreover, steps should be taken to ensure that personnel operating the equipment are adequately trained to comply with international human rights and humanitarian standards.

Furthermore, we ask you as Congressional leaders to insist on binding guarantees from the Nigerian government that the equipment will be used in conformity with US and international law.  Likewise, Congress should seek guarantees from the Trump Administration that the Department of Defense will effectively monitor the use of these aircraft for compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Just a few weeks ago, Ambassador Nikki Haley made well-publicized comments drawing attention to the connection between widespread human rights violations and the breakdown of peace and security.  These comments underscore the risks attached to the intended transfer of the Tucano attack aircraft armed with its mounted machine guns, and the US must take seriously its responsibility to ensure that the transfer of this lethal equipment does not result in a further deterioration of human rights in Nigeria.  From your position of leadership in the US Congress, we urge you to convey these concerns to the Administration and seek guarantees that all precautions will be taken.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International USA
Peace Action
Peace Direct
Friends Committee on National Legislation.
21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
Jubilee Campaign USA
Act4Acountability
Association of Concerned Africa Scholars

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