Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Mass atrocity crimes continue to be threatened by the extremist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Recurring inter-communal violence in the "middle belt" region also constitutes a serious threat to civilians.
While military operations by the Nigerian army and the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) have recovered most of the territory once held by the armed extremist group Boko Haram, sporadic attacks continue in the Lake Chad Basin, with 17 million people living in the affected area. Recent attacks include a 9 December suicide bombing in Madagali, Adamawa state, where at least 45 people were killed, and suicide bombings in Maiduguri, Borno state, on 12 and 31 December.

The Nigerian government's seven-year conflict with Boko Haram has claimed more than 20,000 lives. According to OCHA, there are currently 2.3 million people displaced in the Lake Chad Basin, with the majority in Nigeria. The Boko Haram conflict has resulted in famine-like conditions in parts of Nigeria and a humanitarian crisis in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of civilians during its insurgency, often targeting schools for attack, including the 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok and the 2015 abduction of 300 elementary students in Damasak. The vast majority of abducted children remain missing.

On 24 December President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the Nigerian military had driven out Boko Haram militants from their last camp in the Sambisa forest.

As the government continues to confront Boko Haram, several other conflicts, rooted in long-standing grievances over land and resource allocation, have reignited in Nigeria's "middle belt" and Niger Delta regions.

Inter-communal clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities resulted in hundreds of deaths during 2016, particularly in Southern Kaduna state. Fulani herdsmen have been accused of attacks on predominantly Christian villages, burning homes and churches and killing civilians. On 31 December Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission called upon the government and security forces to address the recurring conflict.

Nigerian security forces have previously been accused of failing to adequately protect vulnerable populations from Boko Haram and of committing human rights abuses against civilians.

While attacks by Boko Haram have become less frequent, the group continues to target civilians. Destroyed infrastructure across the northeast and the ongoing threat of Boko Haram attacks makes the return of displaced populations dangerous and limits humanitarian operations.

Large-scale displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Nigeria, which is already experiencing a severe decrease in government revenue due to depressed oil prices. The scale and frequency of human rights abuses committed by the security forces reveal ongoing weaknesses in the training of the Nigerian army and police.

The government of Nigeria continues to struggle to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.

On 29 November the African Union Peace and Security Council renewed the mandate of the MNJTF until 31 January 2018.

The international response to the situation in Nigeria is currently focused on alleviating the humanitarian crisis. On 2 December the UN launched a $1 billion funding appeal to address food and displacement challenges in northeastern Nigeria.

Governments involved in the MNJTF and ongoing military operations against Boko Haram need to mitigate the risk to civilians and strictly adhere to international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for possible crimes against humanity.

It is essential that the government of Nigeria addresses the root causes of recurring inter-communal conflict, especially in the "middle belt" region, through socio-economic initiatives and political reforms that tackle corruption, poor governance and land rights, as well as access to employment and educational opportunities.

The government needs to urgently undertake a comprehensive security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities in a manner consistent with international law.

Last Updated: 15 January 2017