Boko Haram Update by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

News.- On 1 July 2015, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein spoke at the 29th session of the Human Rights Council in an oral Update on Boko Haram, assuring that members of UNHCR staff were doing all they can in the field to collect information on the Islamic group’s violations and abuses of human rights. A report on the matter shall be presented to the Council in September. 

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Addressing the Council, Zeid said the situation in Nigeria was hopeful given that key areas of the country had been recovered by the government and that there had been improvements in immediate security as well as governance, and tackling root causes of the crisis such as socio-economic deprivation, discrimination, and poverty. But although there have been improvements, there is still much to do about the situation, especially regarding human rights, in the country.

According to interviews by UNHCR staff, there have been reports of human rights abuses, such as indiscriminate attacks, massacres, torture, abduction, rape, child recruitment and forced displacements, to name only a few. Furthermore, it seems like Boko Haram have been responsible for destroying infrastructures vital to people’s lives and livelihoods, such as hospitals, schools, health centres and water systems. The destructive actions led by the terrorist group have led to major crises in the economy of the region. “It is vital that the authorities ensure that every person who has been responsible for such crimes will be held to account in a court of law”, said Zeid.

Regional authorities have also played a damaging role as they have been restricting access to vital areas, such as farmland and fishing areas, as well as blocking truckloads of goods on the grounds that they may have been intended for Boko Haram. In consequence, risks of poverty have increased in the region, which has exacerbated an ill-feeling among the affected communities, thus resulting in an increasing possibility that they start supporting Boko Haram.  

Another problem that the High Commissioner discussed was the detention conditions of adults and children that had been freed from the hands of Boko Haram by government forces. Often, they are detained without any charges and for long periods of time, because of the risk that they may have joined the terrorist group. Suspicion about returning Boko Haram captives has led to arbitrary arrests. Entire ethnic groups have been suspected, which will damage the region’s ability to revive a sense of community, according to the experts in the field. Near-starvation and inhumane living conditions were also reported to be the norm in detention centres.

Women have also suffered greatly from this situation as many were victims of rape and are now pregnant by their rapist. Unfortunately, under the Nigerian law, abortion is only legal in case of risk for a woman’s life. “I strongly urge the most compassionate possible interpretation of the current regulations in Nigeria, to include the risk of suicide and risks to mental health for women and young girls who have suffered such appalling cruelty”, said Zeid.

Zeid continued by stressing the importance that the military and the police forces respect human rights and international humanitarian law whilst fighting Boko Haram. He assured that his office was ready to assist with any kind of training that would allow respect for human rights and human rights law. “Failure to uphold these principles could jeopardize recent successes against Boko Haram, by driving more people into justifiable mistrust for the authorities”, said Zeid. “We will assist the authorities of the region in every possible way to enable their people to recover full enjoyment of their human rights. Meanwhile, Member States, donors and the UN Country Teams should begin focusing programmes to meet the needs of the people in the sub-region to repair the damage caused by boko haram, and ensure that such a movement can never again take hold”, Zeid concluded.

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