Nigeria: Heightened Insecurity Threatens Rights

Soldiers carrying the remains of their dead colleagues during the burial of 14 Nigeria military personnel who lost their lives in an ambush by Boko Haram on Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway in Kaduna.
press release

Abuja — Persistent attacks by Boko Haram, intensified conflict between nomadic herdsmen and farming communities, and violent banditry in many northern states dominated Nigeria’s human rights landscape during 2018, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2019. The government’s failure to ensure adequate protection for citizens and accountability for attacks is a clear indication of huge gaps in security.

At least 1,200 people were killed and nearly 200,000 displaced during 2018 in the nine-year-long northeast conflict between Boko Haram insurgents and government forces. Another 1,600 people were killed and 300,000 displaced as a result of intercommunal violence in the north central region. Scores of others were killed during heavy-handed crackdowns by security forces.

“Nigerian authorities’ response to the heightened violence has led to little concrete and meaningful change,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch.The failure of security forces to effectively respond to attacks and their use of lethal force against unarmed civilians are a troubling trend that needs to be addressed.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Abductions, suicide bombings, and attacks on civilian targets by Boko Haram continue despite proclamations of the group’s defeat by government forces. In February, insurgents abducted 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe State. Five died in captivity, 104 were freed, and 1 is still held, allegedly for refusing to deny her Christian faith. Boko Haram insurgents executed two aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The prosecution of Boko Haram suspects, which began in October 2017, continued in 2018 with trials of over 1,500 suspects. Though fraught with irregularities, the trials are an important step toward justice.

In June, herdsmen attacked villages in Plateau State, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds, including women and children, apparently in retaliation for an alleged earlier killing of five herdsmen by farmers. In September, suspected herdsmen killed 51 people and abducted about 24 others in Numan, Adamawa State.

At least 45 people were killed in an attack by bandits in Gwaska village, Kaduna State, in May. Zamfara State was perhaps the worst affected by frequent bandit attacks, which killed at least 400 people and displaced over 38,000 in 2018.

Nigeria, which sits on the UN Human Rights Council, abstained from voting in 2018 on most council resolutions dealing with serious human rights concerns. Its only positive vote was on a resolution to create an accountability mechanism for crimes committed in Myanmar since 2011.

At home, Nigeria is plagued with serious human rights problems. Arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture by security agencies, including the Department of State Security Services (DSS) and the Police Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), persisted. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo ordered an investigation into SARS operations in August, which has not been completed.

The police arrest, detain, and prosecute people based on their perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2018, the Benue State House of Assembly passed a Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Law, which, like the federal 2014 law, criminalizes public displays of same sex relationships and same sex marriages, and the registration of gay clubs, societies, and organizations.

Security Forces have also cracked down violently on protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) separatist group and members of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN). The authorities failed to carry out a judicial commission of inquiry recommendation to prosecute soldiers involved in the 2015 killing of 347 IMN members. In October, soldiers shot and killed 42 IMN protesters. A report by a presidential panel about armed forces compliance with human rights obligations has yet to be made public.

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