U.S. Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has requested a review of U.S. security assistance and cooperation programs in Nigeria following Reuters reporting on an illegal abortion program and killing of children carried out by the Nigerian military.
Risch, in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken seen by Reuters, also called for the State Department to examine the potential use of sanctions in addition to an expeditious review of U.S. security assistance and cooperation.
"I look forward to hearing more about the Department's planned response to the serious and abhorrent allegations levied against a long-standing beneficiary of U.S. security assistance and cooperation which, if deemed credible, have done irreparable harm to a generation of Nigerian citizens and to U.S. credibility in the region," Risch said in the letter dated Friday.
Nigeria's information minister was not immediately available to comment on the requested review.
A Reuters investigation this month found that since at least 2013, the Nigerian military has conducted a secret, systematic and illegal abortion program in the country’s northeast, ending at least 10,000 pregnancies among women and girls.
Many had been kidnapped and raped by Islamist militants. Resisters were beaten, held at gunpoint or drugged into compliance, witnesses say.
Nigerian military leaders denied the program has ever existed and said Reuters reporting was part of a foreign effort to undermine the country's fight against the insurgents.
Last week, Reuters also reported that the Nigerian Army and allied security forces have slaughtered children during their gruelling 13-year war against Islamist extremists in the country’s northeast.
Nigerian military leaders told Reuters the army has never targeted children for killing. They said that the reporting in the article was an insult to Nigerians and part of a foreign effort to undermine the country’s fight against the insurgents.
Nigeria's military chief on Friday called on the National Human Rights Commission to launch an independent investigation into the illegal abortion program reported by Reuters, according to reports.
The Human Rights Commission had already said it would launch an investigation, according to reports.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson, asked about Risch's letter, said the United States is still reviewing the Reuters reporting and will then determine next steps.
"Decisions to proceed with the provision of military training and equipment are made on a case-by-case basis and consider a variety of factors, including respect for human rights and adherence to the law of armed conflict," the spokesperson said.
"Our existing defense sales to Nigeria include robust components focused on human rights, preventing civilian harm, and promoting military justice and accountability."
The department vets all Nigerian security force units nominated for applicable training and assistance and does not provide security assistance to a force unit if there is credible information indicating it has committed a gross violation of human rights, the spokesperson added.
Earlier this year, the United States approved nearly $1 billion in weapons sales to Nigeria, after Nigeria took delivery last year of Embraer-made A-29 Super Tucanos, a slow-flying plane that can provide close air support to infantry much like a helicopter.
The deal, approved in April, had been put on hold over concerns about possible human rights abuses by the Nigerian government.
The United States has also obligated about $6 million between 2016 and 2020 for the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.
By David Lewis, Reuters