BACKGROUND: Attacks against civilians by Boko Haram, an armed group that has been perpetrating attacks against civilians since 2009 and is committed to overthrowing Nigeria's secular government and establishing an Islamic state, continue. Over 10,000 people were reportedly killed in Boko Haram-related violence during 2014, while more than 1,000 have been killed so far during 2015. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as of March 2015 there were more than 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria, with the majority in northeastern states. Niger, Cameroon and Chad host more than 192,000 refugees and thousands of people in their own countries have also been displaced by Boko Haram attacks. The UN Children's Fund reported on 13 April that among the IDPs and refugees are 800,000 children forced to flee from Boko Haram-related violence.
While Boko Haram has mainly perpetrated attacks in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, in 2014 the group significantly widened the scope of its operations, carrying out attacks throughout Nigeria and in neighboring countries. The group began seizing and holding territory in July 2014 and by January 2015 had expanded its control to include most of Borno state as well as significant territories in Adamawa and Yobe state.
During 2014 Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin, together with Nigeria, authorized troop contributions to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to quell the Boko Haram insurgency. Despite authorization by the AU Peace and Security Council and the drafting of a Concept of Operations (CONOPS), the MNJTF is not yet operational. Despite this, Chad, Cameroon and Niger are currently conducting military operations in Nigeria with the permission of the Nigerian government. Since February the Nigerian army and regional troops have driven militants out of much of the territory held by Boko Haram.
Many areas previously held by Boko Haram and other areas across the northeast are still not sufficiently protected and remain unsafe for the return of refugees and IDPs. More than 400 women and children were reportedly kidnapped from Damasak, Borno state, after the town was recaptured by troops from Chad and Niger in March. Troops also discovered a mass grave with more than 70 bodies outside Damasak. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said on 1 April that his office received reports that Boko Haram militants had killed women and girls they held as "wives" while retreating. According to the High Commissioner, these acts could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has vowed to kill all Muslims who "follow democracy" and said that Boko Haram is at war "against Christians and democracy." Despite the killing of more than a dozen voters during presidential and parliamentary elections held on 28 March, the group was not able to seriously disrupt the elections as Boko Haram had threatened. Muhammadu Buhari of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) won the presidential election and will take office on 29 May.
Nigerian security forces have consistently failed to provide sufficient protection from Boko Haram and there have been reports of soldiers deserting their posts during attacks. Security forces have also been accused of committing war crimes, including extrajudicial killings of suspected Boko Haram members. The "Civilian Joint Task Force," a collection of vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram, has also been implicated in grave human rights abuses. Cameroonian security forces have also been accused of torture and extrajudicial killings of civilians as they fight Boko Haram.
ANALYSIS: Although offensives by troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon have been able to drive Boko Haram militants out of previously occupied towns and villages, these areas remain vulnerable to further attack. Boko Haram's insurgency remains a regional security threat, imperiling the lives of civilians in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger as atrocities and kidnappings continue.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram attacks continue to exacerbate pre-existing social, ethnic and religious tensions. Displacement and ongoing insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Africa's largest economy. Destroyed civilian infrastructure across the northeast also make it difficult for the return of refugees and IDPs, aggravating the humanitarian crisis.
In addition to military measures, the government's Soft Approach to Countering Violent Extremism program and political reforms addressing poor governance and corruption are crucial to confronting the root causes of conflict. President-elect Buhari has promised to defeat Boko Haram and address underlying sources of conflict after he takes office on 29 March, but his government's ability to fulfill these promises is currently unclear.
Nigerian authorities have previously failed to adequately investigate allegations of the security forces' arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members. The government is currently unable to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of vulnerable communities across northeast Nigeria.
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 UN Security Council (UNSC). On 19 January the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning the escalation in Boko Haram attacks, expressing concern over the humanitarian crisis and reiterating "the primary responsibility of Member States to protect civilian populations on their territories." The UNSC also issued Press Statements on 2, 5 and 13 February and 7 April regarding Boko Haram atrocities.
On 29 January the AU Peace and Security Council authorized the MNJTF's deployment 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. From 5 to 7 February regional governments and other stakeholders met in Cameroon and produced a draft concept of operations for the MNJTF. Regional governments announced contributions of 8,700 military, police and civilian personnel. The CONOPS was further developed at a follow-up meeting held from 23 to 27 February.
On 16 February members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) pledged to create an $87 million emergency fund to fight Boko Haram.
On 1 April Human Rights Council held a special session on "on terrorist attacks, abuses and violations committed by Boko Haram" and adopted a consensus resolution requesting the High Commissioner to "document human rights violations and atrocities committed by Boko Haram, with a view towards accountability."
NECESSARY ACTION: Regional and international cooperation is crucial to defeating Boko Haram and holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Governments involved in the MNJTF need to fully operationalize the force as soon as possible and ensure it implements protective measures to mitigate the risk to civilians during anti-Boko Haram operations. Ongoing military operations by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger must adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law.
The UNSC should actively support regional efforts to defeat Boko Haram, including through supporting the MNJTF. The AU, Economic Community for 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 April 2015