Populations at Risk Current Crisis


The extremist Islamist group Boko Haram poses an ongoing threat to populations in northeast Nigeria, where it continues to commit mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Attacks by Boko Haram against civilians have intensified in Nigeria since President Muhammadu Buhari's inauguration on 29 May, resulting in the death of over 1,000 people. Boko Haram has also increased its attacks in neighboring countries, killing civilians in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

A military offensive against Boko Haram initiated in early 2015 by a coalition of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger followed significant territorial seizures by Boko Haram beginning in July 2014. By January 2015 Boko Haram had expanded its control to include most of Borno state, as well as significant territories in Adamawa and Yobe states, and had begun perpetrating cross-border raids. According to the Nigerian military, most of this territory has now been recaptured. However, many areas previously held by the group across northeast Nigeria still remain unsafe for the return of refugees and IDPs. Recent attacks by Boko Haram members on horseback have resulted in dozens of civilians killed in remote villages in the northeast.

President Buhari pledged to eradicate Boko Haram and traveled to Niger and Chad on 3 and 4 June and to Cameroon and Benin on 29 July and 1 August to discuss a regional strategy to defeat the group. Boko Haram killed at least 42 people in attacks on N'Djamena, Chad on 15 June and 11 July. During June and July the group was suspected of killing an estimated 45 people in Niger. On 4 August suspected Boko Haram militants killed 8 people and kidnapped more than 100 from the villages of Tchakarmari and Kangaleri in northern Cameroon. At least 30 people were killed in two Boko Haram bombings in northern Cameroon on 3 September.

Over 10,000 people were reportedly killed in Boko Haram-related violence during 2014. There are now over 2.1 million IDPs in northern Nigeria, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Niger, Cameroon and Chad host an estimated 134,000 Nigerian refugees and thousands of people in their own countries have also been displaced by Boko Haram. According to OCHA, 4.6 million people are food insecure in Nigeria's northeast.

It has been reported that at least 2,000 women and girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram between 2014 and early 2015. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, called upon the Nigerian government, as well as civil society organizations, to provide necessary support to those rescued from what she called a "war on women's physical, sexual and reproductive autonomy and rights."

Nigerian security forces have previously failed to provide sufficient protection from Boko Haram and there have been extensive reports of soldiers deserting during attacks. Security forces have also been accused of committing extrajudicial killings of suspected Boko Haram members. Civilian vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram have also been implicated in human rights abuses. On 3 June Amnesty International reported that more than 7,000 men and boys suspected of affiliation with Boko Haram died in military detention and that 1,200 had been extrajudicially executed since 2011. On 19 June the Nigerian military announced that it will investigate these allegations.

ANALYSIS: Although Boko Haram has been significantly weakened by joint military operations, it remains a regional security threat, imperiling the lives of civilians in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While regional offensives earlier this year have reportedly driven Boko Haram out of previously occupied territories, ongoing atrocities and the destruction of remote villages demonstrate the group's resilience and enduring threat.

Displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Nigeria, Africa's largest economy. Destroyed civilian infrastructure across the northeast and the threat of continued Boko Haram attacks makes the return of refugees and IDPs dangerous and severely limits humanitarian organizations' access to populations in need.

The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Nigeria is currently an elected member of the UNSC. On 19 January the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning the escalation in Boko Haram attacks and reiterating "the primary responsibility of Member States to protect civilian populations on their territories." On 28 July the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement commending the efforts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin to operationalize the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and calling on member states to comply with international law as they combat Boko Haram.

On 29 January the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) authorized deployment of the MNJTF, comprised of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin, for an initial period of 12 months. The mandate of the force includes "the protection of civilians under immediate threat" of attack from Boko Haram. The MNJTF headquarters in N'Djamena were inaugurated on 25 May. Military commanders from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin met on 20-21 August in N'Djamena designating three command posts in Nigeria and Cameroon and agreeing to accelerate the deployment of troops to the MNJTF, which is yet to be fully operationalized.

On 16 February members of Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) pledged to create an $87 million emergency fund to fight Boko Haram.

On 1 April the UN Human Rights Council adopted a consensus resolution requesting that OHCHR "document human rights violations and atrocities committed by Boko Haram, with a view towards accountability." On 1 July the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Nigeria to ease abortion restrictions for women and girls sexually abused by Boko Haram.

On 20 to 22 July President Buhari visited the United States, where he met with President Barack Obama and discussed ways to defeat Boko Haram.

On 23 to 24 August UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Nigeria to mark the fourth anniversary of a deadly Boko Haram attack on the UN building in Abuja.

NECESSARY ACTION: Regional and international cooperation is crucial to defeating Boko Haram and holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Governments involved in military operations against Boko Haram need to ensure they mitigate the risk to civilians and strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law.

Families of Boko Haram members, as well as captives living in Boko Haram camps and child soldiers, need to be adequately protected and carefully reintegrated into Nigerian society. There is an urgent need to assist IDPs living in host communities. The return of refugees and IDPs should be conducted strictly on a voluntary basis.

Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for crimes against humanity committed in areas under the group's command and control.

The UN, AU, Economic Community of West African States, ECCAS and states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should assist the government in meeting humanitarian needs of affected communities and provide technical and military expertise.

With international support, the government needs to urgently undertake security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities while respecting human rights. The government should conduct thorough investigations into all abuses, including alleged extrajudicial killings committed by the military.

Last Updated: 15 September 2015