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“There’s been some incorrect reporting”: US dept. of state briefing on Baga raid (Read)

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“There’s been some incorrect reporting”: US dept. of state briefing on Baga raid (Read)

by Stanley Azuakola

On May 2, the US state department held its daily briefing, and Nigeria was brought up during the question and answer session coordinated by a spokesman, Patrick Ventrell.

Below is an excerpt of that briefing as it concerns Nigeria. However before we reproduce that, there is a term in the briefing which might be unfamiliar to non-US readers. It’s the ‘Leahy vetting.’

In 1997, a law was passed by the US congress called – The Leahy Law. It is named after the main sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy.

The law basically prohibits U.S. military assistance to any foreign nation’s military unit which violates human rights with impunity.

So in essence, the Leahy vetting process is a process carried out by each U.S. embassy whereby it reviews the backgrounds of military units for which assistance has been proposed.

Now that you know, you can read the excerpts of that press briefing below.

State Department Daily Press Briefing, May 2, 2013

QUESTION: On Nigeria, you took a question yesterday on violence in the village of Baga.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Nigerian military says several dozen houses were burned during that operation. Human Rights Watch says that satellite imagery shows that more than 2,000 homes were burned in that violence. Does the U.S. Government have any reason to doubt the Nigerian military’s assessment of what happened there?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have seen the Human Rights report, and as I said before, the U.S. strongly condemns the loss of life and mass destruction of dwellings in Baga, Borno State over the weekend of April 15th, which is evidenced in that Human Rights Watch report. So we extend our condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims.

And we understand that President Jonathan has called for an investigation, including ascertaining that security forces, namely the Joint Border Control Forces in the area, had adhered to the rules of engagement. So we urge a full investigation into these attacks, and that those responsible, both military and others, be held to account.

QUESTION: So which of those accounts do you believe to be correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we have the Human Rights Watch study – the Human Rights Watch report. We’re studying it. We’re looking at it very closely.

QUESTION: There were reports earlier today that your Ambassador to Nigeria met with human rights people in – there, I presume, in Abuja or Lagos, and told them that the U.S. would be suspending at least some military assistance in Nigeria —

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: — because of this. Is that correct? Did this meeting take place? And two, is it correct that you are suspending at least some?

MR. VENTRELL: There’s – no, it’s not correct. There’s been some incorrect reporting out there. The United States works with the Nigerian military and law enforcement to improve communications, mobility, and emergency response through assistance and training. And we take our Leahy vetting obligations very seriously, and so we’ve taken strong measures to ensure compliance. But Nigeria remains an ACOTA partner that contributes significant numbers of troops to several UN peacekeeping missions in Africa, including in Mali. And so we vet all units from African countries that receive U.S. bilateral assistance.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: One more thing to say here, Matt, before you follow up. We will have a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor who’s going to travel to Abuja to discuss the incident in Baga and broader human rights issues with senior Nigerian officials next week. So we’re going to continue our dialogue with the Nigerian authorities on this.

QUESTION: All right. So let me make sure. You have decided that the Leahy Amendment does not apply in this case, or you are waiting for their investigation, or —

MR. VENTRELL: No, I’m saying we continue with our assistance —

QUESTION: So —

MR. VENTRELL: — but we do so in a way that is very careful to make sure we’re doing our Leahy vetting requirements.

QUESTION: But that predates this.

MR. VENTRELL: Right. This is not a specific —

QUESTION: Okay. So the reports that the ambassador said that there was going to be a suspension of at least some aid are flat wrong?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is a misreporting.

QUESTION: Is that being considered?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we have a Deputy Assistant Secretary for DRL who’s going to go out there, continue to have this dialogue with the Nigerian Government. But —

QUESTION: In light of this incident, is it – are you considering or are you reviewing whether or not this assistance is in compliance with the Leahy Amendment?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, the assistance, in terms of Leahy is – in terms of specific vetting of individual units. That’s the main requirement. And so we continue to do that vetting to make sure that our assistance doesn’t go to units or officers that are involved in human rights abuses.

QUESTION: And right now, there are no units that are – that have done anything that would require you to cut off assistance to it?

MR. VENTRELL: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And then, is it correct that there was a meeting, this meeting happened?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware one way or another if the ambassador had this specific meeting. I am aware and was told very clearly that – from our folks on the ground that the reporting of this was mischaracterized.

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