Almost one year after the kidnapping of 276 girls by Boko Haram, eleven civil society leaders from Nigeria and the region today appealed to the Nigerian government and the United Nations (UN) Security Council to ensure their fight against Boko Haram upholds the human rights standards that the extremists are flouting. The signatories to the letter, including Partnership for Justice, the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), and the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) underline that only by avoiding harm to civilians and respecting human rights law can the mission be effective.
Following the peaceful and brave way in which Nigerians conducted recent Presidential election, the transition to the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari coincides with stalled Security Council negotiations and the anniversary of 276 girls being kidnapped from the town of Chibok. These girls still have not been rescued and in March an additional 500 children were kidnapped from Damasak, while hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes this year.
Meanwhile, UN Security Council debates on a draft resolution about tackling Boko Haram have failed to progress in recent days. The Resolution would be focused on the mandate of a Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) charged with defeating Boko Haram, and the civil society leaders argue there is a legal and moral imperative for the new government of Nigeria to ensure civilians are not harmed in the mission. For the Nigerian Government and other Security Council members to disregard these concerns would weaken the military campaign’s legitimacy and further entrench grievances that give strength to Boko Haram's cause.
Ivy Fidelia Ofili from Nigerian organisation Partnership for Justice said, “This has been a momentous time for Nigerians, and one to be proud of. However, Boko Haram remains a stain on the conscience of us all. Their appalling attacks on civilians in Nigeria and in our neighbours must be stopped but stopped while upholding the human rights we have just celebrated with this election. Our brothers and sisters must be protected, and so must our values.” Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, Director for West Africa from the Institute for Security Studies, stated, “Nigerians faced down the vicious threat from Boko Haram to turn out and vote in these historic elections. But hundreds of girls and boys remain in the hands of Boko Haram. This election must be a new dawn for the people of Nigeria: the forces of Boko Haram must be defeated and the abusers brought to justice, but if we fall below the standards of international law and morality in this fight, the idea of Boko Haram will not be defeated.”
The coalition of civil society leaders are calling for the MNJTF to include specific human rights provisions safeguards, including dedicated teams for monitoring harm to civilians, and accountability for people who violate human rights laws. Hyomeni Paul Guy, National Coordinator, Le Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’Homme (RECODH), said "President Buhari has an opportunity to play a key role in the regional and international effort to defeat Boko Haram not only militarily, but also morally. To make sure that the campaign is seen as legitimate by people in the region and in the international community, and to discourage further support for Boko Haram, it is of utmost importance that the force is careful both to protect civilians and to uphold human rights."
Nigerian and regional civil society calls on Nigeria and the United Nations Security Council to safeguard civilians in their fight against Boko Haram
We applaud the bravery that Nigerians have shown in conducting the 28th March elections. Despite the threat that Boko Haram posed, Nigerians cast their votes in peace in Africa’s largest democracy. Yet the country still faces enormous challenges.
Nearly a year ago, 276 girls were kidnapped from the town of Chibok, Borno State. In March this year, more than 500 children were abducted in Damasak. Today, those girls still have not been rescued, hundreds of thousands more people have been forced to flee their homes, thousands killed; the fight against Boko Haram is as urgent as ever. In the struggle against these extremists, we look to the country's government to lead a regional campaign to defeat Boko Haram both militarily and morally, by protecting civilians and upholding human rights.
One of the first challenges for President Elect Buhari will be to deal with Boko Haram comprehensively. Right now, Nigeria should lead the region in this. As a UN Security Council member and a key contributor to peacekeeping missions across the continent, Nigeria should seek a UN Security Council Resolution so the region's military efforts can benefit from the support of the international community, and demonstrate that Nigeria can lead her allies in defeating the extremists while strictly adhering to international humanitarian law and upholding international human rights standards.
Ensuring civilians are not harmed by the mission to defeat Boko Haram is not only a moral imperative and a legal responsibility. To disregard these concerns would weaken the military campaign’s legitimacy and further entrench grievances that give strength to Boko Haram's cause
As the United Nations Security Council discusses the situation in Nigeria, we, civil society representatives of Nigeria and the wider region affected by Boko Haram, make this appeal to the Council's members: Resolution on the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram should include provisions for:
- A human rights monitoring team;
- A separate civilian casualty tracking unit to help the Task Force understand their impact on civilians and make tactical adjustments to minimise harm;
- A call on the countries to buttress current military responses with robust criminal justices measures including the setting up of national tribunals or special courts to fully investigate and prosecute crimes committed by Boko Haram; and
- Regular reporting back to the Council on this threat to international peace and security.
We urge each Security Council member to act in good faith and conscience to address the serious dangers facing civilians in Nigeria and the region, and make sure Boko Haram is defeated both militarily and morally. We believe that a strong UN resolution is needed to deal with this enormous challenge, one that has the potential to effect the entire region. The international community needs to react urgently to the plea for assistance made by the people of West Africa.
David Ugolor, Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ)
Louisa Ono Eikhomum, Executive Director, Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative, Nigeria
Chinwe Onyeukwu, Programme Manager, Gender and Development Action, Nigeria
Anton du Plessis, Managing Director, Institute for Security Studies Itoro Eze-Anaba, Managing Partner, Partnership for Justice, Nigeria
Hyomeni Paul Guy, National Coordinator, Le Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l’Homme (RECODH)
Leo Atakpu, Chair, Society for Water and Sanitation, Nigeria (NEWSAN)
Ngozi Nwosu Juba , Project Director, Vision Spring Initiative, Nigeria
Bridget Osakwe, National Network Coordinator, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding - Nigeria (WANEP-Nigeria)
Bose Ironsi, Executive Director, Women's Rights and Health Project, Nigeria (WRAHP), Nigeria
Amina Salihu, Women's Human Rights Advocate, Nigeria