Helping Nigeria Address the Boko Haram Humanitarian Crisis

By Adotei Akwei, Managing Director for Government Relations, Amnesty International USA

On April 30 Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will meet with President Trump and Congress. Buhari’s visit comes on the fourth anniversary of Boko Haram’s abduction of over 250 school girls from the village of Chibok.

The U.S. has a major interest in seeing Nigeria prosperous, at peace, and free of Boko Haram’s attacks. President Buhari’s visit will be an important opportunity to offer badly needed additional humanitarian aid and tough advice, as both will be needed to achieve that goal.

Some 20,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009. In 2017 Boko Haram carried out over 65 attacks resulting in 411 civilian deaths and over 73 abductionsof women and girls in Nigeria alone. At the end of the 2017 there were about 1.6 million internally displaced people (“IDPs”) in Nigeria, with another 303,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon and 374,000 Nigerian refugees in Chad and Niger. Humanitarian organizations in Nigeria estimate that as many as three million people in the country face serious food shortages, and seven million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Nigerian Security Forces have committed systematic abuses including extrajudicial executions, torture, and the arbitrary arrest and mass detention of thousands of people, including children. Detainees have been denied access to lawyers and family members. Hundreds of women were detained because they were believed to be related to Boko Haram members. The police and the State Security Service, sexually abused female prisoners, some of whom were survivors of Boko Haram abductions.

Nigeria is a key partner for the United States whether it is related to security issues-such as addressing radical armed extremist groups in the region or playing a significant role in peacekeeping missions. In 2016 the Department of State and USAID managed roughly $470 million in bi-lateral assistance to“support efforts to help stabilize the country and the region, and ultimately protect U.S. national security and prosperity”.

The U.S. must help the Nigerian government recalibrate its strategy response by prioritizing human rights, starting with helping Nigeria stop human rights violations by the Nigerian security forces. Beyond protecting the lives and individual security of people living in Nigeria, abuses by the security forces are a violation of the Nigerian constitution as well as regional and international human rights instruments that that Nigeria is party to. Security forces abuses also arguably alienate the impacted communities who are suffering the abuse and could inadvertently create a pool of people for Boko Haram to recruit from. Failing to address this behavior could undermine the effectiveness of the Nigerian government’s campaign to stop Boko Haram.

The U.S. must press for accountability and reform and build on some positive developments that have taken place over the last year, such as

· The establishment of a Presidential Panel to review compliance of the Armed Forces with human rights’ obligations in August. Hundreds of families and numerous organizations, including Amnesty International, submittedreports detailing abuses by the security forces where no one had been held responsible.

· The launch by the Nigerian police of Force Order 20, an initiative aimed at reducing the excessive use of pre-trial detention by providing free legal advice to suspects at police stations in September

· President Buhari’s signing in to law of the Anti-Torture law, which prohibits and criminalizes the use of torture in December

Unfortunately, Nigeria’s history is rife with laws and report recommendations that have never been implemented or enforced. It is essential that the U.S. ensure that this does not happen this time. The Presidential Panel’s findings must be released, they must be made publicly available and its recommendations must be implemented by the federal government.

The U.S. must also help Nigeria improve it response to its humanitarian crisis by. This means

· providing robust food aid,

· pressing for improvements in protection and human rights monitoring,

· helping federal, state and local officials improve rehabilitation and reintegration services including services to address the needs of survivors of gender-based violence and,

· advising the Nigerian government against speeding up returns of displaced persons to areas that are still vulnerable to Boko Haram attacks.

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