Populations at Risk
Attacks by Boko Haram, excessive use of force by the security forces and inter-communal violence are creating a deadly dynamic that puts populations at risk of crimes against humanity in Nigeria.
BACKGROUND: More than 2,000 people have died since 2009 in bombings and gun attacks carried out by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group that is committed to overthrowing Nigeria's secular government. On 5 August International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reported that crimes against humanity may have been committed by Boko Haram. Nigerian security forces have also been accused of failing to provide adequate protection to vulnerable populations and of committing human rights violations as they battle Boko Haram.
On 14 May, after April's "Baga massacre," when 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. Additional troops were deployed to deal with the deteriorating security situation. Despite these efforts, Boko Haram continues to launch attacks against civilians. At least 70 people were killed in three separate Boko Haram attacks in Borno state between 31 October and 2 November.
As part of Boko Haram's terrorist campaign, Christians have been singled out for attack and church bombings have become a regular occurrence. For example, at least 28 people were killed on 29 July when deadly explosions hit a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Kano city. Previous attacks have at times triggered violent reprisals against Muslims and resulted in inter communal violence.
Boko Haram has also targeted Muslims critical of the group's actions or working for the government. The group killed at least 44 worshippers at a mosque in the town of Konduga, Borno state on 11 August. Boko Haram, which considers secular education "un-Islamic," has also increased its attacks on schools. On 29 September Boko Haram militants killed up to 50 students in Gujba, Yobe state in an attack on a college dormitory.
On 15 October Amnesty International reported that at least 950 people suspected of being members of, or linked to, Boko Haram had died in military detention in the first six months of 2013 alone. On 14 November the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 40,000 civilians had fled northern Nigeria into Niger during the state of emergency.
ANALYSIS: Civilians in northern Nigeria remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes as Boko Haram continues to target Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials, vigilantes and students. As fighting between the security forces and Boko Haram continues under the state of emergency, indiscriminate violence further heightens the risk of mass atrocity crimes perpetrated against civilians.
The government currently lacks the capacity necessary to adequately protect populations in the north from the threat posed by Boko Haram, while corruption and excessive military force undermines efforts to defeat their insurgency.
The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs the ongoing support of the international community.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: The UN Security Council (UNSC) last issued a Press Statement on Nigeria during January 2012, focusing on terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. On 17 October Nigeria was elected to the UNSC for 2014-2015.
During a meeting with President Jonathan on 26 May, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined the importance of protecting civilians and expressed hope for a quick end to the state of emergency. On 30 September the Secretary-General condemned the killing of college students at Gujba and called "for increased efforts to be taken to prevent similar attacks and ensure adequate protection of civilians."
On 5 November the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly condemned "cowardly attacks by Boko Haram," including a 2 November attack on a wedding convoy in Borno state, which killed at least 30 people.
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. Nigerian authorities should conduct a credible investigation into deaths in military detention.
The AU, Economic Community of West African States and UN, along with states maintaining significant ties to Nigeria, should assist the government as it deals with the threat posed by 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: 15 November 2013