Populations at Risk Current Crisis


Mass atrocity crimes are being perpetrated in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram as it commits systematic attacks against civilians.
BACKGROUND: The extremist group Boko Haram has been perpetrating attacks against civilians since 2009 and is committed to overthrowing Nigeria's secular government and establishing an Islamic state. Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has vowed to kill all Muslims who "follow democracy" and has said that Boko Haram is at war "against Christians and democracy." While Boko Haram has mainly perpetrated attacks in three northern states – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – since April the group has carried out indiscriminate bombings in Abuja as well as in Jigawa, Kano and Kaduna states.

Despite the ongoing military state of emergency, which was declared by President Goodluck Jonathan for Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in May 2013, Boko Haram attacks have escalated significantly during 2014. According to the Nigeria Social Violence Project, more than 5,000 people were killed in the first three quarters of the year, by comparison to 2,742 casualties in 2013. The National Emergency Management Agency reported that more than 1.5 million people have been displaced since the beginning of the state of emergency.

During April 2014 Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno state. While some students escaped, more than 200 remain missing. On 17 October the Nigerian government announced that a ceasefire deal had been reached with Boko Haram, which would result in the release of the girls. However, on 1 November Boko Haram publically denied these claims, ruling out talks and saying that the kidnapped girls have been "married off" and will not be returned.

Since July Boko Haram has seized at least 17 towns. On 24 August Abubakar Shekau declared these towns to be "part of the Islamic state." On 29 and 30 October Boko Haram militants seized control of Mubi, Adamawa state, killing dozens of people and forcing thousands to flee. While the government claims to have recaptured many towns, Boko Haram attacks continue. On 3 November at least 15 people were killed during an attack on a Shia religious festival in Potiskum, Yobe state. On 10 November at least 46 students were killed by a suicide bomber at a school assembly in Potiskum.

Nigerian security forces have been accused of failing to provide sufficient protection to civilians. Recurring abductions and attacks often take place amid reports of soldiers deserting their posts. The security forces have also been accused of committing grave human rights violations against suspected Boko Haram members. The "Civilian Joint Task Force" (CJTF), a collection of vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram, has also been implicated in abuses.

On 13 October the Nigerian government publicly launched its Soft Approach to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program. The program aims to address the underlying causes of religious radicalization in Nigeria.

ANALYSIS: While Boko Haram continues to target Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and pro-government vigilantes, as well as students and teachers, indiscriminate attacks against all civilians have intensified. The government has been unable to adequately protect populations from Boko Haram, while the security forces' alleged acts of arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members violate international human rights law and may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. While the CJTF are believed to be filling some protection gaps, they have also prompted reprisal attacks by Boko Haram.

Since Boko Haram started holding territory the humanitarian situation in the northeast has dramatically deteriorated. The international community and the Nigerian government continue to focus mainly on counter-terrorism, neglecting the humanitarian needs of affected communities.

Boko Haram attacks exacerbate existing social, ethnic and religious tensions, heightening the possibility of renewed inter-communal violence, particularly in the volatile "Middle Belt" region. Civilian displacement and ongoing insecurity has increased unemployment and poverty. Social initiatives proposed under the Soft Approach/CVE Program and political reforms addressing poor governance and corruption are crucial to confronting the root causes of conflict.

General elections scheduled for 14 February 2015 present a number of challenges, including the ability of the government to implement registration and voting procedures in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. Boko Haram's opposition to the democratic process and frequent attacks on public gatherings increases the threat to civilians while voting.

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

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in April drew unprecedented international attention to the threat posed by Boko Haram. The abduction was condemned by numerous governments and UN officials. President Jonathan accepted offers from the United States, United Kingdom, France and China to provide assistance in finding and freeing the schoolgirls.

During a 17 May Paris Summit and 12 June London Ministerial meeting, regional and international partners committed to increase coordinated action against Boko Haram. On 23 July Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon pledged to mobilize a multinational force against Boko Haram. On 7 October Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria agreed to finalize the deployment of troops and put in place a command center for the joint force by 20 November.

Nigeria is currently an elected member of the UNSC. The UNSC has not directly addressed the threat posed by Boko Haram since 9 May, but expressed concern over cross-border attacks in statements regarding the West African region on 9 July and 17 August.

NECESSARY ACTION: The security forces must intensify protection of vulnerable communities, especially in the northeast of the country. With international assistance, the government urgently needs to undertake security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities while respecting human rights.

Authorities should immediately implement the Soft Approach/CVE Program. The government must conduct investigations into alleged abuses committed by the military against civilians.

The UN, AU and Economic Community of West African States, along with states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should continue to assist the government in upholding its Responsibility to Protect its population. These actors should urge the authorities to strengthen the rule of law and ensure accountability for grave human rights violations. International actors should also assist the Nigerian government in meeting the humanitarian needs of affected communities.

As Nigeria prepares for the 2015 general elections, politicians from all parties should refrain from inflammatory statements that could deepen religious, ethnic and inter-communal divisions. The government must ensure that citizens residing in the area under the state of emergency and IDPs are not disenfranchised.

Last Updated: 15 November 2014