The relatively peaceful outcome of the presidential and gubernatorial elections is a landmark for Nigeria. Greater respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential if Nigeria is to manage continued economic, social and security challenges effectively.
The impunity that has characterized the cycles of violence in the Middle-Belt and public corruption and embezzlement of the country’s oil wealth require urgent attention. It is however the conflict in the north east of the country that has involved the most egregious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch believes that around 7,000 civilians have been killed since 2010 and more than a million people are displaced. The Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram has targeted civilians, abducted hundreds of women and girls, forcefully conscripted young men and boys, and destroyed villages, towns, and schools.
It has also carried out attacks causing the deaths of civilians in neighboring Niger, Cameroon and Chad. While recent military operations by the Nigerians and neighboring states have pushed Boko Haram fighters out of dozens of towns and resulted in the rescue of over 700 Boko Haram hostages, the abuses persist.
In responding to Boko Haram, Nigerian government security forces have been implicated in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including incommunicado detention, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
While some soldiers have been prosecuted in military tribunals for offences such as cowardice and mutiny, almost no one has been held to account for human rights crimes and there is a pervasive culture of impunity.
The new Nigerian administration should commit to immediately suspend from duty any member of the Nigerian security force, including senior officers, where there is credible evidence of their involvement in serious human rights abuses, and investigate and prosecute all those implicated in serious abuses against civilians. The Nigerian Government should also facilitate safe access for national and international human rights monitors, including OHCHR officers, to areas affected by Boko Haram violence in the northeast.
We strongly support the calls expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in his public statement released on 5 June 2015, and his offer to advise the Government on ensuring that counter-insurgency operations are in line with international law.
We call on the OHCHR to regularly and publicly report on all information collected and on its findings in areas affected by Boko Haram violence, both in Nigeria as well as in neighboring countries. We also urge the governments of Nigeria and other countries affected in the region to invite the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit at the earliest opportunity to address the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner in his various statements on the conflict.