BACKGROUND: Thousands have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence in Nigeria since 2009. Boko Haram, an extremist group committed to overthrowing Nigeria's secular government and establishing an Islamic state, targets Christians and moderate Muslims and attacks churches and mosques. Over 200 people were killed in northern Nigeria in January 2014. On 26 January Boko Haram militants attacked a Catholic church in Adamawa state, setting off explosives and killing at least 45 people. A Christian preacher and a prominent Muslim scholar were assassinated on 31 January in Kaduna state and 1 February in Adamawa state, respectively.
Boko Haram, which considers secular education "un-Islamic," has also attacked schools, killing students and teachers. Attacks on social gatherings and crowded places have become frequent. On 14 January at least 29 people were killed in Maiduguri, Borno state, when a bomb planted in a rickshaw taxi exploded. Boko Haram insurgents also burned down the village of Kawuri, Borno state, killing up to 85 people on 26 and 27 January. In another major attack on 11 February, dozens of Boko Haram militants stormed villages in Konduga, Borno state, killing at least 51 people and burning buildings, including a mosque, local clinic, library and school.
Nigerian security forces have been accused of failing to provide adequate protection to vulnerable populations and of committing human rights violations as they confront Boko Haram's insurgency. On 15 October 2013 Amnesty International reported that at least 950 people suspected of being linked to Boko Haram had died in military detention in the first six months of 2013 alone.
On 14 May 2013, after April's "Baga massacre," when over 180 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 houses destroyed by security forces pursuing Boko Haram members, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. In November the state of emergency was extended until May 2014. On 16 December the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 1,224 people have died in Boko Haram-related violence in the three northern states since the imposition of the state of emergency.
Inter-communal conflict also continues to plague Nigeria. According to a Human Rights Watch report, between January 2010 and December 2013 an estimated 3,000 people were killed in Plateau and Kaduna states during inter-communal violence. On 31 January a Christian family of seven was killed by Fulani Muslims in Kaduna state, reportedly resulting in reprisal attacks.
ANALYSIS: Civilians in northern Nigeria remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes as Boko Haram continues to target Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials, pro-government vigilantes and students. As fighting between the security forces and Boko Haram continues under the state of emergency, indiscriminate violence heightens the risk of further mass atrocity crimes.
The government has been unable to adequately protect populations in the north from the threat posed by Boko Haram or to prevent recurring inter-communal violence in central Nigeria.
In addition to ongoing Boko Haram attacks and inter-communal violence, general elections scheduled for 2015 may further exacerbate religious tensions, heightening the risk of widespread conflict, in a country where the presidency tends to alternate between leaders from the predominantly Christian south and Muslim north.
The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs the ongoing support of the international community.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The UNSC last issued a Press Statement on Nigeria during January 2012, focusing on terrorist attacks by Boko Haram.
The International Criminal Court reported in August 2013 that there is a reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram has perpetrated crimes against humanity in Nigeria. The Office of the Prosecutor is assessing whether the government is holding those bearing the greatest responsibility for these crimes accountable.
NECESSARY ACTION: Authorities must provide increased security at educational institutions, places of worship and other sites routinely targeted by Boko Haram in the north of the country.
Security forces deployed under the state of emergency must protect vulnerable communities in a manner that is consistent with international human rights standards. With international assistance, the government should advance security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to prevent mass atrocities while respecting human rights.
The government must also address underlying causes of inter-communal violence, including youth unemployment, corruption as well as land and water rights.
The AU, Economic Community of West African States and UN, along with states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should assist the government as it confronts Boko Haram. These actors should urge the authorities to strengthen the rule of law and ensure accountability for all grave human rights violations.
Last Updated: 14 February 2014