Insurgent Attacks Against Civilians Constitute War Crimes
Worrying reports of gruesome attacks and killings by insurgents in Nigeria’s restive northeast region appear to show an escalation of attacks on aid workers and other civilians over the past several weeks.
On January 21, Boko Haram insurgents executed Rev. Lawan Andimi, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Adamawa State, after refusing a ransom offered for his release. Andimi was declared missing on January 2, and a video later emerged on Twitter confirming he was in Boko Haram’s custody.
On January 19, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), an armed group formerly part of Boko Haram, issued a chilling video of a boy executing a man identified as a Christian hostage. On December 26, ISWAP had released another video claiming to show the killing of 11 Christians.
On January 18, suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked a United Nations facility housing several aid groups in Ngala, Borno State. At least 20 internally displaced persons waiting for assistance at the facility were killed, according to media reports. In a public statement following the attack, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said aid workers are increasingly targeted by insurgents, noting 12 were killed in 2019, double the previous year, while two others remain in captivity.
After ten years of conflict with Boko Haram in the northeast, Nigeria continues to contend with violence from the insurgency group and its breakout factions, as well as violent banditry, kidnappings, and killings by armed groups in other parts of the country. And Nigerian security agencies are repeatedly implicated in gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture – for which there has been little or no accountability. In November 2019, a video showing men dressed in army fatigues torturing and killing a suspected Boko Haram insurgent surfaced online. Despite promises, the Nigerian army has yet to take appropriate action.
Targeted attacks on aid workers and other civilians during an armed conflict, as well as torture and murder of prisoners, are war crimes under international law. Nigerian authorities should investigate all alleged war crimes and ensure those responsible are brought to justice – whether they are from insurgency groups or state security forces. Prioritizing justice is fundamental to building lasting peace and security in the country.