Observer Team Nigeria

International Operation Name: Observer Team Nigeria

International Operation Dates:  1968/09/15 – 1970/02/28

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Africa

Location:  Nigeria

Canadian Operation Name: Observer Team Nigeria

Canadian Operation Dates: 1968/09/15 – 1970/02/28

Mission Mandate: To investigate, at the invitation of the Nigerian government, allegations of genocide and war crimes, as they were brought to the attention of the observers.

Mission Notes: 

In July 1967, war broke out between the Federation of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra following the latter’s assertion of its independence on 30 May 1967. Following initial Biafran successes, Nigerian forces gradually fought their way back into Biafra and, on 15 January 1970, the latter surrendered.

From the outset, Biafran authorities alleged that the Nigerian military was guilty of serious human rights abuses and perhaps even genocide. Images of starving Biafran children produced an international outcry, and as a result of these protests the Nigerian government invited Britain, Canada, Poland, Sweden, the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to despatch observers to ascertain and report on the validity of Biafran allegations. All agreed, with Canada choosing to send one observer provided he had complete freedom of movement and to report everything he saw.

The observer groups comprised representatives from all participants, but while the UN and OAU members submitted individual reports, the British, Canadian, Polish, and Swedish observers tried to achieve consensus in their reporting; minority reports were nevertheless acceptable when they could not. Despite widespread suspicions that their work would be obstructed, the observer groups by and large were free to travel where they needed to, and although they reported evidence of “unprovoked and inexcusable killings” – not uncommon in such conflicts -- there was no evidence that the Nigerian forces had been or were engaged in genocide.

The first Canadian observer, Major General W.A. Milroy, arrived in Nigeria on 17 September 1968 and was immediately persuaded that the Canadian contingent should be increased. Two officers were soon sent to join him. They were replaced after six months, and that tour became the norm until the last two Canadians left in February 1970, when the cease-fire had taken effect and a peace agreement had been reached.


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