Populations at Risk Imminent Risk


Mass atrocity crimes continue to be threatened by the extremist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Excessive use of force by security forces, recurring inter-communal violence and increasing instability in the Niger Delta region also constitute a serious threat to civilians.
BACKGROUND: Despite more than a year and a half of military operations against Boko Haram by the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), sporadic attacks by the extremist group continue in Nigeria as well as neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. More than 20,000 people have been killed in Nigeria since Boko Haram launched its armed offensive in 2009. Since July 2015 Boko Haram has also reportedly conducted at least 200 attacks in northern Cameroon, killing 480 people. According to OCHA, there are currently 2.4 million IDPs in Nigeria and 155,000 Nigerian refugees in neighboring countries.

According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), since April 2014 at least 1.3 million children have been uprooted by Boko Haram violence in Nigeria and neighboring countries, while one of every five suicide bombers used by Boko Haram in 2015 was a child. On 29 June a boy blew himself up, killing 11 people at a mosque in Cameroon. The group has also 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.

The Boko Haram conflict has sparked a humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin. On 22 June Médecins Sans Frontières reported that a "catastrophic humanitarian emergency" was unfolding at an IDP camp in Bama, Borno state, where at least 1,233 people have died in the past year, many from starvation or illness. According to OCHA, an estimated 7.3 million people in Nigeria's Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states are food insecure, with 3 million in urgent need of assistance. OCHA has also reported high levels of sexual and gender-based violence in and around displacement sites.

As the government addresses the Boko Haram insurgency, several other localized conflicts, rooted in long-standing grievances over land and resource allocation, have escalated in Nigeria's "middle belt" and Niger Delta regions. Inter-communal clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities have resulted in hundreds of deaths in 2016. Newly-formed militant groups in the Niger Delta, including the Niger Delta Avengers and Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, have perpetrated attacks on oil and gas installations as well as security personnel.

Nigerian security forces have been accused of failing to protect populations and committing human rights abuses against civilians, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, as well as of concealing evidence of such crimes. At least 347 civilians were killed during clashes between security forces and a Shia group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, in Kaduna state during December 2015.

ANALYSIS: The reemergence of armed groups in the Niger Delta region and attacks on oil and gas installations puts increasing strain on a government that is already struggling to protect vulnerable civilians from the Boko Haram insurgency. Although much of the government's attention has been directed towards defeating Boko Haram, other conflicts also threaten the stability of the state and have the potential to fracture Nigerian society.

While large-scale attacks by Boko Haram have become less frequent, the group continues to target civilians and security personnel in Nigeria and neighboring countries. Large-scale 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 ongoing threat of Boko Haram attacks makes the return of displaced populations dangerous and severely limits humanitarian operations.

Ongoing human rights abuses by Nigeria's security forces demonstrate an urgent need for comprehensive security sector reform.

The government of Nigeria currently lacks the capacity to adequately uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: 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. During her April visit to the region, United States Ambassador Samantha Power announced $40 million in humanitarian assistance to the Lake Chad countries. On 11 April the EU allocated 67 million Euros for the rehabilitation and re-integration of captured Boko Haram members.

On 14 May representatives from the four Lake Chad Basin 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, 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.

On 27 June the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, released $13 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to provide life-saving assistance to 250,000 people in areas of north-east Nigeria.

NECESSARY ACTION: As Nigeria faces multiple security crises it is essential for the government to prioritize the protection of vulnerable civilians. However, the government must also address the root causes of conflict through social initiatives and political reforms that tackle corruption, poor governance and land rights, as well as access to employment and educational opportunities. The government must urgently address long-standing grievances in the Niger Delta, including serious environmental degradation and disputes over resource allocation.

Governments involved in the MNJTF and ongoing military operations against Boko Haram need to mitigate the risk to civilians and strictly adhere to IHL and IHRL. Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for crimes against humanity committed in areas under the group's command and control.

Greater steps must be taken to rescue and reintegrate civilians abducted by Boko Haram. The return of refugees and IDPs should be conducted on a strictly voluntary basis. The UN, AU and other regional organizations, 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.

The Nigerian government should also conduct thorough investigations into alleged abuses by the security forces, including for crimes committed during counter-insurgency operations. The government needs to urgently undertake comprehensive 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.

Last Updated: 15 July 2016