Borno Massacre: Rights Group Challenges Buhari on Civilian Protection

A global rights group, Human Rights Watch has challenged the Buhari administration to prioritise civilian protection, and also stop forcing people to return to areas where they risk further harm.

According to the rights group, ‘’too many civilians are dying, and it’s time the Nigerian state worked harder to protect them.’’

The group’s Africa Division Researcher, Anietie Ewang, says Boko Haram insurgents reportedly at least 70 civilians the previous weekend, many of them farmers working on a rice field.

‘’The attackers tied up many of the victims before slitting their throats, according to media reports. This latest gruesome attack took place in Jere, not far from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and epicenter of the decades-long conflict in northeastern Nigeria.

‘’The UN has described the incident as the most violent direct attack against civilians this year, and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

‘’Boko Haram and its splinter faction, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), have continued to attack civilian, humanitarian, and military targets this year, reportedly killing at least 363 civilians between January and September.

‘’It is increasingly difficult to protect civilians, even in government-controlled areas. In June, three rocket-propelled explosives fired from outside Maiduguri killed four people and injured three others in the city, an area previously considered relatively safe given the strong Nigerian army presence.

‘’Yet despite ongoing safety concerns, authorities in Borno state announced plans in August to encourage nearly two million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Maiduguri and other areas to return to their communities.

‘’Sixteen days after IDPs were returned to Kukawa Local Government Area on August 18, Boko Haram insurgents attacked the community and abducted at least 100 people. Boko Haram also launched a deadly attack against Borno state governor Babagana Zulum’s convoy on September 27, as he returned from escorting the IDPs for resettlement.

‘’While the governor survived, at least 18 people, including four civilians, were killed. The attack came two days after the governor survived another attack while travelling near Lake Chad, and a previous ambush by insurgents in July.

‘’The incessant attacks against civilians in the northeast have led to calls for President Muhammadu Buhari to dismiss his army chiefs and put in place a more effective security structure to save lives’’, Human Rights Watch says.

Last August, the group reported that hundreds of people were missing from a town in North-East Nigeria following an attack by Boko Haram fighters on August 18.

Witnesses told Ewang, most were abducted by the insurgents or went missing as they fled the attack on the town of Kukawa in Borno state.

Thousands of people have disappeared from northeastern villages and towns in the 11-year conflict between the insurgent group Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces.

Boko Haram is responsible for the abduction of hundreds, including the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014, many of whom remain unaccounted for.

Many other people have been forcibly disappeared after having been arrested by security forces and militias assisting in counterinsurgency efforts.

Last year, Fatima Hassan, a 55-year-old woman from Gwange, Maidguguri, told me that she had not seen or heard from her two sons, Ibrahim, 35, and Musa, 30, since soldiers took them for “questioning” during a neighborhood raid in September 2012.

“I have been to all the detention centers I know to look for them”, she said. “But nobody provides information. I don’t know if they are dead or alive.”

Hassan is part of Jire Dole, a network of survivors and relatives of missing persons of the Boko Haram conflict. The group’s leaders have put together a list of more than 3,000 missing people in their communities and are documenting more.

The caseload of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nigeria, with nearly 23,000 missing people, is its largest in Africa, out of a total of 44,000 missing on the continent. It is the ICRC’s highest number registered in any country in the world.

In 2015, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission announced that a database for missing persons would be established, but five years later the database is still not operational.

As a party to core international human rights and humanitarian law treaties, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Geneva Conventions, Nigeria has obligations to provide information on suspects in custody and open inquiries on the fate of missing persons.

As families remember missing loved ones on this International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Nigerian authorities should provide information on their fate or whereabouts, release suspects in government detention facilities who have not been charged, and increase efforts to locate and return those in Boko Haram custody.

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