The Nigerian military is intensifying its military campaign in the north of Nigeria. The move comes after several Boko Haram attacks and increased insecurity on trade routes in Northern Nigeria. Simultaneously, human rights organizations and several media outlets raised new concerns regarding human rights and the conduct of the Nigerian military.
Data from Council for Foreign Relation’s Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) indicates that September has been the bloodiest month in the conflict – on the blog, research associate Emily Mellgard concludes that the tactics employed by Nigeria’s government have failed to contain Boko Haram’s lethality, and instead have fostered a “culture of violence.”
Concern over human rights abuses by the Nigerian military is growing. Last week, Amnesty International cited evidence linking the Nigerian military to human rights abuses. According to Amnesty, over 950 suspected Boko Haram members died in military custody in the first six months of 2013 alone— some died of suffocation due to overcrowding and of injuries due to torture; others were extrajudicially executed. The South African magazine Daily Maverick writes that it is unclear whether these detainees were Boko Haram fighters, since there have “been few if any judicial proceedings, and little independent verification of the army’s claims.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Nigeria has only prosecuted six terrorism cases to date.
As noted on this blog, Nigeria benefits from U.S. security assistance to stabilize the Niger Delta, and the United States considers Nigeria a vital strategic partner. The U.S. State Department responded to human rights concerns raised by Amnesty:
We share Amnesty International’s grave concerns about the human rights situation in Nigeria, and in this case, about detainee treatment. We note our full support for access of international humanitarian organizations to all Nigerian detention facilities, and it’s also worth noting that we engage Nigerian leaders on, of course, a range of issues, but specifically on this all the time.
To date, Nigeria has resisted international pressure to improve prison conditions, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Red Cross has been unable to access the prison facilities in military barracks, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Additionally, on Saturday, the Associated Press reported the Nigerian military is killing thousands on the battlefield, and that this number increased significantly after Nigeria announced the state of emergency: “In the 30 days before the state of emergency was declared on May 14, 380 bodies were delivered to the hospital by the military. In the 30 days after, the number was 1,321.” Last week, Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) expert John Campbell blogged that the Nigerian government “may be involved in nearly as many deaths in Nigeria as Boko Haram.”
This week, both the New York Times (NYT) and the Los Angeles Times ran stories about AFRICOM’s intention to expand its presence and training in Africa to foster African capabilities to tackle Islamist threats, including Boko Haram. The NYT quotes a U.S. trainer in West Africa, Maj. Bret Hamilton, as referring directly to Boko Haram: “We’re never going to teach [West African militaries] anything about Boko Haram they don’t already know, but we can help them develop their capacity as a military.”
In a Letter to the Editor, Washington’s Human Rights Watch director Sarah Margon wrote that U.S. military training must go beyond just increasing capacity of security partners:
Capacity-building alone won’t tip the balance toward more effective forces or reduce growing security threats.
In northern Nigeria … the government’s heavy-handed response to Boko Haram, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamist armed movement, has fueled insecurity, a challenge that cannot simply be addressed by scaling up operational training or information sharing.
Instead, the United States needs to build military partnerships that are rooted in a commitment to human rights, accountability and civilian protection.