Abuja — The U.N. says nearly 500,000 people in northern Nigeria have fled their homes in fear of what it calls an "increasingly monstrous" insurgency that threatens food security in many parts of the country.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who visited Nigeria this week, warned that what was formerly an internal conflict has become a regional crisis. The insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has "spilled across borders" into neighboring West African countries along with nearly 60,000 refugees, Pillay said.
"With thousands of refugees fleeing from Nigeria, and arms and fighters reportedly flowing across international borders in the other direction, this terrible conflict is no longer solely an internal matter," she said.
Major attacks blamed on Nigeria's Boko Haram
July - Attacks prompt government crackdown in Bauchi and Maiduguri; 800 people killed
December - Bombings in central Nigeria and church attacks in the northeast kill 86
June - Attack on a bar in Maiduguri kills 25
August - Suicide bomber kills 23 at U.N. building in Abuja
November - Bombings in Damaturu and Potiskum kill 65
December - Christmas Day bombings across Nigeria kill 39
January -- Gun and bomb attacks in Kano kill up to 200
February - Maiduguri market attack kills 30
June - Suicide car bombings at three churches kill 21
July - Attacks in Plateau state kill dozens, including two politicians at a funeral for the victims
February - French family kidnapped in Cameroon, held hostage for two months
April - Fighting with troops in Baga kills up to 200; residents say troops set deadly fires
May - Attacks in Bama kill more than 50
July - Gunmen kill 30 at a school in Yobe
August - Gunmen kill 44 at a mosque outside Maiduguri
September - Gunmen kill 40 students a dorm in Yobe
October - Attack Yobe state capital Damaturu, clash with military in Borno state
Pillay urged Nigeria to broaden its counter-terrorism strategy and work more closely with neighbors and the international community to stop the Islamist militant group known as Boko Haram. Inside Nigeria, she adds, farmers have abandoned their fields as they flee the insurgents, threatening food security in many areas.
Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths since launching its uprising against the government in 2009.
Human Rights Watch says 2014, so far, may be the worst year of the insurgency. It says the group has killed 700 people in attacks on 40 villages this year, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
"They have burned down houses, churches, clinics and schools." Pillay said. "They have murdered children in their beds. Some of its members are reported to have abducted and raped women and girls."
Pillay also warned that heavy-handed tactics by security forces fighting Boko Haram can put civilians' lives at risk.
"Many people I have met during this visit openly acknowledge that human rights violations have been committed by security forces, and these have served to alienate local communities, and created fertile ground for Boko Haram to cultivate new recruits."
Human Rights Watch says despite 10 months of emergency rule in the three most dangerous northeastern states, the crisis continues to expand.
But when Nigeria or neighboring countries close borders to keep militants and weapons out, it only makes things worse, forcing families to stay in dangerous places, said Mausi Segun, a researcher for Human Rights Watch Nigeria.
"Boko Haram is able to run around and kill so many people and cause so much destruction," he said. "I think it really has been a failure on the part of the government to protect the people, their lives and their property."
The Nigerian military maintains that it is beating Boko Haram and violence has increased recently because so many of their camps have been destroyed, leaving surviving fighters desperate.