Sunday, 14 April, marked the fifth anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from a school in the Nigerian village of Chibok by Boko Haram. The armed extremist group perpetrated the attack in Borno State as part of its ongoing campaign against public education that has cost the lives of hundreds of students since 2010. While many of the Chibok girls have been freed since April 2014, 112 of the girls are still missing.
Children have been a primary target of armed extremist groups in Nigeria. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 3,500 children aged 13-17 were recruited by non-state armed groups between 2013 and 2017 and used as child soldiers. UNICEF also reported that during 2018 an estimated 430 children were killed and maimed during armed conflict in north-east Nigeria and an additional 180 were abducted.
Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, who was recently re-elected, has faced criticism for the security forces’ inability to provide civilians with adequate protection from armed groups and for the failure to free all of the Chibok girls. Despite several years of relative stability in northern Nigeria and the government’s claim that it has militarily defeated Boko Haram, the group still poses a threat. Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State of West Africa have intensified their attacks in recent months, killing dozens of security personnel and civilians.
Insecurity is also growing elsewhere in Nigeria. On 6 April at least 50 people were killed in Zamfara State in clashes with bandits. Inter-communal violence and attacks on villages in Kaduna State during February and March also resulted in at least 148 people being killed and 545 houses destroyed.
In order to uphold its primary responsibility to protect, the government should intensify programs that strengthen local security and bolster the rule of law. This should include social initiatives aimed at undermining the appeal of armed extremist groups. The government must also address the underlying causes of recurring inter-communal conflict in Nigeria, namely poverty, land rights and poor governance.
On Friday, 12 April, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request to open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Afghanistan since May 2003. The official statement cited a lack of cooperation from governments involved in the situation as one of the reasons why they could not pursue a successful investigation and prosecution. During March the United States announced that it would deny visas to members of the ICC investigating the actions of its personnel in Afghanistan. Prosecutor Bensouda’s visa was revoked by the United States during April.
The decision of the ICC judges sends a dangerous signal to perpetrators of atrocity crimes and emboldens those who refuse to cooperate with international justice mechanisms. According to the ICC Prosecutor’s preliminary investigation, there is a “reasonable basis to believe” that during Afghanistan’s 17-year conflict, war crimes have been committed by the Taliban and their affiliated network, as well as by the Afghan security forces and members of the international military coalition, including the United States.
On 12 April the Taliban also announced the launch of its annual spring military offensive. The announcement came despite recent peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, and ahead of planned meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan representatives later this month. Past spring offensives have led to a dramatic escalation of fighting, potential war crimes and increased civilian casualties. The UN reported that 3,804 civilians were killed by the armed conflict in Afghanistan during 2018.
The international community should continue to support the Afghan government as it combats the Taliban and other armed extremist groups. Afghan security forces and all international military forces operating in Afghanistan must prioritize the protection of civilians and strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law. The international community should continue to pursue international justice for all war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
At least 20 people were killed and 40 injured on Friday, 12 April, during a suicide bombing in Quetta, the provincial capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. The bomb was detonated inside a fruit and vegetable market where members of the Hazara Shia community were shopping. At least seven Hazara civilians were killed in the attack. Two armed extremist groups – the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – have both claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Hazara minority have frequently been targeted by armed extremist groups in Pakistan. In recent years most of these attacks have been carried out in Quetta, which is home to more than half a million ethnic Hazara people. According to a report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights, 509 members of the Hazara community were killed between January 2012 and December 2017. Due to security risks, Hazaras in Quetta now live in two enclaves that are protected by military checkpoints.
From 12-14 April Hazara community members held a sit-in to protest the government’s inability to provide them with adequate protection from ongoing attacks by armed extremists. Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director, Omar Waraich, noted that following each attack “there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialize.” Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to visit Quetta on 18 April and will preside over a meeting on the security situation in Balochistan.
Condemnation of attacks on the Hazara community are not enough. Pakistan’s government must intensify efforts to counter violent extremism and protect vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities. In its efforts to promote greater religious tolerance, the government should work closely with the Hazara community and religious leaders. All individuals and extremist groups responsible for inciting, planning or committing deadly sectarian attacks must be held accountable for their crimes.