(Abuja) – Intensified violence and atrocities by Boko Haram dominated Nigeria’s human rights landscape in 2014, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2015. The violence threatens to derail the conduct of peaceful, fair, and credible elections in the northeast on February 14, 2015.
In April, Boko Haram’s abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok focused unprecedented global attention on the group’s abduction of women and girls. It continues to seize and control territory in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, where it holds more than 130 villages and towns. In responding to the group, government security forces have been implicated in grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. An estimated 3,750 civilians were killed by Boko Haram attacks in 2014.
“With elections around the corner, citizens should ensure that Nigeria’s human rights challenges are at the center of the political discourse,” said Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Unmitigated violence is a threat to the nation’s stability and to the well-being of all Nigerians, not just those in the north.”
In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.
In September, the president of the Nigerian Senate said that 2015 elections could be postponed because the nation “was at war with Boko Haram.” The Independent National Electoral Commission, which supervises elections, is yet to make concrete arrangements to ensure the participation of almost one million displaced people. The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, which Nigeria ratified in 2012, provides for the rights of displaced people to participate in the political affairs of their country, including the right to vote and run for election.
Boko Haram has indiscriminately killed civilians, abducted women and girls, forcefully conscripted young men and boys, and destroyed villages, towns, and schools, Human Rights Watch said. The conflict has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians and the displacement of 981, 416 residents within Nigeria as well as more than 150,000 people who have become refugees in neighboring countries.
Government security forces have responded to the Boko Haram violence in a heavy-handed way, leading to serious human rights violations. Suspects are routinely abused, tortured, and held incommunicado in abusive detention conditions without charge or trial.
During a Boko Haram attack in March on the Giwa military barrack and detention facility in Maiduguri, security forces allegedly killed more than 600 detainees who fled during the attack. No member of the security forces has been brought to justice for these and previous violations of human rights, including the massive deaths and destruction of property from a military raid in Baga, Borno State in April 2013. Despite repeated pledges by the military, these incidents are yet to be investigated.
Local vigilante groups assisting Nigerian security forces were allegedly implicated in the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and ill-treatment, and unlawful killing of Boko Haram suspects.
In the North Central states of Nigeria, communal violence, fueled by competition for power and access to land between nomadic pastoralists and farming communities, killed more than 1,200 people in 2014. Nigerian authorities made scant effort to investigate or prosecute those responsible for the violence.
“Nigerians should be putting pressure on their government in this election season to halt the endemic violence,” Segun said. “Nigeria’s leaders should be as focused on the rights of all residents as they are on winning the battles of party politics.”