BACKGROUND: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. In its attacks, the group targets Christians and moderate Muslims, bombing churches and mosques. Boko Haram considers secular education "un-Islamic" and often attacks schools, killing students and teachers. Indiscriminate attacks on social gatherings and isolated villages have also become common. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Boko Haram-related violence has displaced more than 470,000 people since May 2013 while more than 57,000 have taken refuge in neighboring countries.
Despite the ongoing state of emergency, which was declared by President Goodluck Jonathan for Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states during May 2013, Boko Haram attacks have escalated, particularly in rural areas.
Amnesty International reported that at least 1,500 people, mostly civilians, were killed in northeastern Nigeria in the first quarter of 2014 by Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces and civilian vigilante groups, collectively known as the "civilian Joint Task Force." At least 32 people were killed on 20 March in Ngurosoye village, Borno state, as a result of a bomb attack on a market by suspected Boko Haram members.
At the end of March, Borno state officials began the process of closing an estimated 85 public schools indefinitely due to the deteriorating security situation and the risks posed to students and staff. On 2 April Boko Haram killed 15 civilians in a failed attack on a state oil facility in Borno state. On 6 April Boko Haram militants attacked the village of Buni Gari in Yobe state, killing at least 17 people, including Muslim worshippers praying at the local mosque.
Nigerian security forces have been accused of failing to provide adequate protection to vulnerable populations as they confront Boko Haram's insurgency and of committing widespread human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. More than 600 people, mainly former detainees, were killed by the security forces on 14 March in response to a Boko Haram attack on a military barracks and prison. On 20 March security forces reportedly bombed Kayamla village, Borno state, in response to reports of Boko Haram presence, killing ten unarmed civilians.
Inter-communal conflict also continues in Nigeria. According to Human Rights Watch, between January 2010 and December 2013 an estimated 3,000 people were killed in Plateau and Kaduna states during sporadic inter-communal violence. This violence is rooted in ongoing disputes over land and water rights. Clashes between Fulani herdsmen and Christian villagers resulted in over 200 people killed in inter-communal violence during March in Kaduna, Katsina and Benue states. Fulani herdsmen also clashed with Hausa youths on 5 April, resulting in at least 72 deaths in northwestern Zamfara state.
ANALYSIS: While Boko Haram uses terrorism as a tactic to destabilize the Nigerian state, their threat should be understood through the lens of the Responsibility to Protect. 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 atrocities, including possible crimes against humanity.
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. The security forces' acts of arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members violate international human rights law. In spite of the government's deployment of additional forces in the north under the state of emergency, Boko Haram attacks have increased.
Inter-communal conflict in Nigeria stems from a number of sources, including poverty, rampant unemployment, widespread corruption and the manipulation of religious and ethnic identities to serve political and economic interests. The Nigerian government's recently proposed "soft approach" to Boko Haram, aimed at addressing poverty and social injustice in addition to existing military efforts, is important to confronting the root causes of violence and may bring about positive results if rigorously implemented.
General elections scheduled for 2015 may further exacerbate religious and ethnic tensions and heighten the risk of widespread conflict.
The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs the ongoing support of the international community.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The International Criminal Court (ICC) reported during August 2013 that there is a reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram has perpetrated crimes against humanity. The ICC is conducting a preliminary examination assessing whether the government is holding those bearing responsibility for these crimes accountable.
The UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Rita Izsak, conducted an official visit to Nigeria between 17 and 28 February. Izsak issued a statement on 28 February insisting that a security response is insufficient to address inter-communal violence and that the government "must address long-standing and contentious political, economic and social issues and inequalities that have been neglected."
On 4 March the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, Said Djinnit, strongly condemned the escalation of terrorism and the "unprecedented cycle of violence" that is killing innocent civilians in Nigeria.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, released a statement on 14 March during a visit to Nigeria, noting that many of the people she met "openly acknowledge human rights violations have been committed by the security forces, and these have served to alienate local communities, and create fertile ground for Boko Haram to cultivate new recruits."
NECESSARY ACTION: Authorities must provide increased security in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, particularly at educational institutions, places of worship and other sites routinely targeted by Boko Haram.
Reforms undertaken as part of the government's "soft approach" to counter the Boko Haram insurgency should be expanded to central and northwestern states in order to address the underlying causes of inter-communal violence.
Security forces 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 African Union, Economic Community of West African States and UN, along with states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should 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: 9 April 2014