Populations at Risk Current Crisis


Attacks by Boko Haram, excessive use of force by the security forces and the recurring threat of inter-communal violence create a deadly dynamic that leaves populations facing crimes against humanity in Nigeria.
BACKGROUND:The extremist group Boko Haram, which has been perpetrating attacks against civilians since 2009, 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 and their constitution."

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 during 2014. According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram killed at least 2,053 civilians in the first six months of 2014. On 23 June the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that there were an estimated 650,000 internally displaced persons in northeast Nigeria. An additional 15,000 people were displaced following a Boko Haram attack in Damboa, Borno state, on 19 July that resulted in more than 100 people killed. Boko Haram has started committing large-scale abductions, including the abduction of 100 people in in Dorno Baga, Borno state, on 10 August.

Boko Haram considers secular education "un-Islamic" and continues to attack schools. According to the Nigerian National Union of Teachers, 173 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram in the past five years. On 14 April Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno state. More than 200 are still being held captive. On 30 July a female suicide bomber killed at least 6 people at Kano Polytechnic College.

Nigerian security forces have been consistently accused of failing to provide protection to civilians from Boko Haram. Recurring abductions and attacks often take place without adequate response by the security forces. Reports of soldiers deserting their posts before and during Boko Haram attacks are numerous. The security forces have also been accused of committing grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, against suspected Boko Haram members. On 5 August Amnesty International released evidence of "multiple war crimes" carried out by the Nigerian military. The "Civilian Joint Task Force" (CJTF), a collection of civilian vigilante groups formed in response to inadequate security provision by the government, has also been implicated in grave human rights abuses.

Boko Haram has also significantly expanded its activity outside the area under the state of emergency. The group has committed three attacks in Abuja since April, killing and estimated 120 people. Multiple attacks, including a number of suicide bombings, occurred in Kano and Kaduna states in July. Suspected Boko Haram militants also carried out cross-border raids in Cameroon in July, kidnapping several people, including children of an influential Muslim cleric, mayor of the town of Kolofata and the wife of Cameroon's deputy prime minister.

ANALYSIS: The frequency and geographical spread of Boko Haram attacks have increased significantly. While Boko Haram continues to particularly target Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials, pro-government vigilantes, students and teachers, there has also been a growing pattern of indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

The use of young women and children as suicide bombers appears to be a new Boko Haram tactic, drawing the most vulnerable populations further into the conflict. Boko Haram attacks also exacerbate existing local social, ethnic and religious tensions, heightening the possibility of renewed inter-communal violence, particularly in the volatile "Middle Belt" region.

The government has so far been unable to adequately protect populations from the threat posed by Boko Haram. The security forces' alleged acts of arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members violate international human rights law and may constitute crimes against humanity. While the CJTF are believed to be filling some protection gaps, vigilantes have further blurred the lines between civilians and the security forces and prompted reprisal attacks by Boko Haram.

While the lack of adequate military protection for vulnerable populations needs to be urgently addressed, social initiatives and political reforms remain crucial to confronting the root causes of conflict in northern and central Nigeria. Conflict in Nigeria stems from a number of sources, including poor governance, widespread corruption, as well as lack of education and employment opportunities. Without seriously addressing these issues, the possibility of ending Boko Haram's insurgency and preventing future conflict are minimal.

General elections scheduled for 2015 may further exacerbate tensions if politicians manipulate ongoing instability as well as religious and ethnic identities to serve political interests.

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 has drawn unprecedented international attention to the threat posed by Boko Haram. The abduction was strongly condemned by numerous governments as well as the UN Secretary-General, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies. President Jonathan accepted offers from the United States, United Kingdom, France and China to provide assistance in finding and freeing the Chibok schoolgirls.

On 9 July the UN Security Council issued a Press Statement, "[expressing] concern over the threat posed by the activities of the terrorist group Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon."

On 23 July Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon pledged to mobilize a joint force against Boko Haram, which has become a regional threat. Each state will contribute 700 troops towards the joint force. Recent Boko Haram attacks and kidnappings in Cameroon also prompted Cameroon authorities to intensify border security.

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

Authorities should complement their security response by also implementing the government's declared "soft approach," aimed at addressing underlying causes of conflict and undermining the Boko Haram insurgency. Reforms undertaken as part of the "soft approach" should be expanded to central and northwestern states where recurring inter-communal conflict also threatens safety and security.

The UN, African Union and Economic Community of West African States, along with states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, such as the United States and United Kingdom, 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 all grave human rights violations.

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.

Last Updated: 15 August 2014