Populations at Risk Imminent Risk


Mass atrocity crimes continue to be perpetrated by the extremist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Excessive use of force by security forces and recurring inter-communal violence also contribute to the threat to civilians.
BACKGROUND: Despite more than a year of joint military operations against Boko Haram, attacks by the extremist group against civilians continue in Nigeria as well as neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. More than 20,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram launched its armed offensive in 2009. According to OCHA, there are currently 2.2 million IDPs in Nigeria and 177,000 Nigerian refugees in neighboring countries. An estimated 7 million people in northeast Nigeria remain food insecure, with 2.5 million in urgent need of assistance.

On 24 December Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, said that Boko Haram was no longer capable of conducting "conventional attacks" against security forces or major population centers. Despite this claim, multiple attacks have been carried out by Boko Haram in Nigeria during 2016, including raids on villages, IDP camps and mosques, that have resulted in hundreds of deaths.

On 12 April UNICEF reported on the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency on children, who have been killed, recruited to armed groups and exposed to sexual violence. Since April 2014 at least 1.3 million children have been uprooted by Boko Haram violence in Nigeria and neighboring countries. The group has particularly targeted schools for attack, including the 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok and the 2015 abduction of 300 elementary students in Damasak. The vast majority of abducted children remain missing. According to Human Rights Watch, between 2009 and 2015, more than 910 schools were destroyed in northeastern Nigeria, while at least 600 teachers have been killed.

Boko Haram continues to target women and girls for kidnapping, using some abductees to perpetrate attacks. According to UNICEF, one of every five suicide bombers used by Boko Haram in 2015 was a child. On 20 April two females detonated a suicide bomb at an IDP camp in Banki, Borno state, killing eight people.

Nigerian security forces have often failed to provide sufficient protection from Boko Haram. The military has also been accused of committing human rights abuses against civilians, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings of suspected Boko Haram members. According to Amnesty International, over 7,000 detainees, including children, have died in military detention since 2011.

Nigerian security forces have also been accused of grave abuses while clashing with members of a Shia group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), in Kaduna state during December. On 11 April, at a public hearing by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, a Kaduna state official confirmed that soldiers and government officials transported the bodies of 347 people killed in the clashes to a mass grave. On 22 April Amnesty International reported on attempts by the authorities to conceal evidence of the mass killings.

Inter-communal clashes in Nigeria's "middle belt" region, a recurring phenomenon rooted in longstanding grievances over access to land and other resources, also continue. According to Benue state officials, hundreds of people were killed during week-long clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers before security forces halted violence on 27 February. Over 70 people were reportedly killed in raids or clashes in Taraba, Benue and Enugu states during April. On 27 April President Buhari ordered the Chief of Defence Staff and the Inspector-General of Police to "secure all communities under attack by herdsmen."

ANALYSIS: Despite joint military operations driving Boko Haram out of many previously occupied territories, the group continues to target civilians in Nigeria and neighboring countries. While large-scale attacks have become less frequent, the group continues to carry out suicide bombings, demonstrating its resilience and enduring threat.

Displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, which is already experiencing a severe decrease in government revenue due to depressed oil prices. Destroyed civilian infrastructure across the northeast and the threat of Boko Haram attacks makes the return of displaced populations dangerous and severely limits humanitarian operations.

The deadly military crackdown on the IMN and alleged human rights abuses by Nigeria's security forces demonstrate the ongoing need for security sector reform. Human rights abuses by the security forces could further destabilize affected communities if not addressed urgently and impartially by the judicial system.

Recurring inter-communal clashes in central Nigeria demonstrate the ongoing need for the government to address the root causes of conflict not only in the northeast, but also in the country's "middle belt" region, especially with regard to conflicts between nomadic herdsmen and settled communities.

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

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Despite the escalating crisis, during Nigeria's 2014-2015 term as an elected member of the UNSC, the Council only issued three Presidential Statements on efforts to combat Boko Haram.

In January 2015 the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) authorized deployment of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), comprised of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The mandate of the force includes "the protection of civilians under immediate threat" of attack from Boko Haram. In January 2016 the AUPSC renewed the MNJTF's mandate for 12 months.

During February the United States announced that it will provide training to approximately 750 soldiers from selected units of the Nigerian army and deploy special operations advisers to enhance military capacity to defeat Boko Haram. On 11 April the EU allocated 67 million Euros for the rehabilitation and re-integration of captured Boko Haram members.

On 12 April, two days before the two-year anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, a group of UN Special Procedures urged the Nigerian government to escalate efforts to release all persons abducted by Boko Haram.

During her April visit to the region, United States Ambassador Samantha Power visited refugees and IDP camps and announced $40 million in humanitarian assistance to the Lake Chad countries.

On 14 May representatives from the four states, together with international partners, including the EU, France, United Kingdom and United States, met in Abuja for the second Regional Security Summit on efforts to defeat Boko Haram. Ahead of the Summit, the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement on 13 May, recognizing that some acts perpetrated by Boko Haram "may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes" and stressing that those responsible must be held accountable.

NECESSARY ACTION: Coordination between the security forces of the four affected countries is crucial to defeating Boko Haram. Governments involved in the MNJTF and ongoing military operations against Boko Haram need to ensure they mitigate the risk to civilians and strictly adhere to IHL and IHRL. Greater steps have to be taken to rescue civilians abducted by Boko Haram. State governments should actively work with local communities to promote re-integration of victims returning from Boko Haram captivity.

In addition to military efforts, root causes of the insurgency must be seriously addressed through social initiatives and political reforms that tackle poor governance, land rights, access to employment and educational opportunities. More resources should be allocated to non-military efforts aimed at countering violent extremism.

The return of refugees and IDPs should be conducted on a strictly voluntary basis. The UN, AU, Economic Community of West African States, and Economic Community of Central African States, as well as individual governments, should urgently assist Nigeria in meeting the humanitarian needs of affected communities and continue to provide technical and military expertise to help combat Boko Haram.

Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for crimes against humanity committed in areas under the group's command and control. With international support, the Nigerian government needs to undertake security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities in a manner consistent with international law.

The government should conduct thorough investigations into all abuses, including alleged extrajudicial killings. The government must hold accountable all perpetrators of crimes committed during clashes between the security forces and the IMN.

Last Updated: 15 May 2016