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Published On: Thu, Apr 3rd, 2014

Boko Haram, security agents and violation of humanitarian law (I)

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Boko-haram-attackSince the start of 2014, more than 1,500 people have been killed in north-eastern Nigeria. People are living in a climate of fear and insecurity, vulnerable to attack from Islamist armed group Boko Haram on the one hand and facing human rights violations at the hands of the very state security forces which should be protecting them. In light of this context, the ongoing intensity of the confrontation and the organisation of the clashing actors, Amnesty International considers the situation to be a non-international armed conflict.

According to Amnesty International’s research at least half of the deaths are civilians, killed in attacks by Boko Haram. More than 600 people, mainly former detainees, were killed by the security forces following the attack by Boko Haram on the military barracks in Maiduguri on 14 March. These killings amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Nigerian security forces and the Islamist armed group Boko Haram are committing serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and human rights abuses amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There have been hundreds of unlawful killings, including scores of extrajudicial executions, and deliberate attacks on civilians. Thousands of detainees have been victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Suspected Boko Haram members have launched a campaign of violence on the residents of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. A state of emergency was declared by President Goodluck Jonathan in these three states in May 2013 and was extended in November 2013.

The extension of the state of emergency has not helped to reduce the violence in northern Nigeria. Hundreds of people are dead, thousands of families have been separated and hundreds of thousands of people have fled the affected states and are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries or have been internally displaced. National and international humanitarian organisations have faced serious difficulties in reaching out to people in some parts of the affected region. As a result, thousands do not have access to emergency medical care and food supplies. Women, the elderly and children have been mostly affected.

Since the violence started in 2009, thousands of fighters have also been killed in clashes between security forces and Boko Haram members across different locations in north-eastern Nigeria. Since 2012, thousands of people have died in military custody in Borno and Yobe states. Hundreds more have been victims of enforced disappearances and thousands have been subjected to acts of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in military and police custody in north-eastern Nigeria.

Amnesty International is calling on regional and international human rights bodies to step up in ensuring that thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations are conducted. Nigeria should seek international assistance and advice in the conduct of these investigations and any subsequent prosecutions.



• 2003 – Boko Haram established in northern Nigeria under the leadership of Islamic cleric Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf preached that the country’s ruling class was marred by corruption and advocated for the creation of an Islamic state.

• July 2009 – Boko Haram members clashed with security forces in several northern states, resulting in at least 800 deaths. Mohammed Yusuf was arrested and killed in police custody.

• 2010 – Boko Haram regroups and starts its campaign of violent attacks against security forces, schools, churches and civilians.

• September 2010 – Boko Haram attack a prison in Bauchi State, freeing 150 of its members and several hundred other prisoners

• 12 June 2011 – The Nigerian government established a Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno state, to “restore law and order” to north-eastern Nigeria. It is comprised of personnel from the Nigerian Armed Forces, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the Department of State Security (DSS), the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Defence Intelligence Agencies (DIA).

• 16 June 2011 – Boko Haram bombs Nigeria’s National Police Force Headquarters in Abuja.

• 26 August 2011 – Boko Haram bombs the UN offices in Abuja, killing 23 people.

• 26 April 2012 – Boko Haram bombs the offices of the Nigerian newspaper Thisday in Abuja and a building housing three newspapers, including Thisday, in Kaduna. At least seven people died.

• November 2012 – The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court notes that serious human rights violations may have been committed by the JTF and that Boko Haram’s attacks may constitute crimes against humanity.

• May 2013 – President Jonathan declares a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, which is rapidly approved by the National Assembly.

• May 2013 – A vigilante group, known as the “civilian joint task force”, is formed with government support in Maiduguri. They are given powers to arrest suspected Boko Haram members and hand them over to the security forces.

• November 2013 – The National Assembly approves a 6- month extension to the state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states

• 2014 – Attacks by Boko Haram against civilians intensify, becoming an almost daily occurrence. The JTF responded by increasing its campaign to flush Boko Haram out of its camps in the east of Borno state.

• 16 January 2014 – President Jonathan replaces the Chief of Defence Staff and other senior military figures.

• 14 March 2014 – Boko Haram attacks the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri, allegedly freeing over one thousand inmates. The military re-captured the barracks, then rounded-up and shot hundreds of escaped detainees.



The fighting in north-eastern Nigeria meets the required criteria for it to be considered as a non-international armed conflict.

In the first three months of 2014 alone, hundreds of people including children, old people and women have been killed in different locations across north-eastern Nigeria. Hundreds of soldiers, members of the “civilian Joint Task Force” (“civilian JTF”) and suspected Boko Haram fighters have also been killed in attacks and clashes in the conflict.

This year alone, there have been at least 52 deadly attacks. Below is a highlight of some of the major attacks and unlawful killings by Boko Haram as well as counter attacks by the security forces between January and March 2014:

• In the last two weeks of March, the JTF has attacked Boko Haram camps in Borno

State around Lake Chad, the Sambisa Forest and the Mandara Mountains. Reports in the Nigerian media indicate that hundreds of corpses have been seen transported away from those areas by military personnel. No precise figures have been received from the military. The camps attacked include Gombole, Mele, Kecheri, Dufrfada, Yuwe, Duguri, Polkime and Malafatori, among others.

• Members of the JTF killed 18 suspected Boko Haram members on 24 March 2014 as they prepared to attack Bama and Ngurosoye towns.

• On 20 March 2014, an improvised explosive devise detonated in a market in Ngurosoye village killing at least 16 people. Boko Haram is suspected of carrying out the attack. On the same day the military allegedly bombed Kayamla village, killing 10 residents.

• On 14 March 2014 Boko Haram attacked Giwa barracks in Maiduguri, allegedly freeing hundreds detainees. There were no reported deaths of soldiers in the attack. A couple of hours later, the military regained control of the barracks. More than 600 people, mainly former detainees, were killed in the attack and its aftermath.

• On 9 March, sources in Nigeria’s military claimed to have killed over 210 Boko

Haram members in raids on Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa forest, Borno State.

• Suspected Boko Haram members attacked Jakana Village in the Konduga Local Government Area of Borno State on 3 March. They killed between 40 and 48 civilians, and destroyed shops and the police station.

• On 2 March, Mafa village in Borno State was reportedly attacked by suspected Boko Haram gunmen. They killed 29 people and destroyed several houses. A bomb left by the attackers was said to have detonated later, killing two police officers. Allegedly, the JTF of the Nigerian security forces did not respond for five hours after the attack.

• 39 people were reportedly killed in an attack on Mainok village, Borno State on 1

March by suspected Boko Haram members. Several houses were also burned down during the attack. Earlier in the week, the JTF ambushed Boko Haram members as they prepared to attack Mainok village, killing 40 insurgents.

• On 1 March, two bombs were detonated in Maiduguri, Borno State, killing 52 people. Boko Haram members were alleged to be responsible.

• On 26 February, suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed 37 people in attacks on Kirchinga, Michika and Shuwa villages in Adamawa State. During the attack on Shuwa village, assailants burned down a Christian college and school. Military sources claimed to have killed six suspected Boko Haram members during their counter-attack.

• On 25 February, between 43 and 59 people were shot dead by suspected Boko Haram members in an attack on a school in Buni Yadi, Yobe State. Many school children were among those killed in the attack. According to residents, the military did not respond during the attack, which lasted between four and five hours.

• Suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked the palace of a traditional leader and a school in Bama, Borno State in the early hours of 19 February. Between 60 and 90 people died. The assailants allegedly used suicide bombers and improvised explosive devises. The military claimed that they killed “a lot of insurgents” during the confrontation.

• On 16 February, several villages in Adamawa State were attacked by Boko Haram members. 65 people died in the attacks.

• On 11 February, an attack by suspected Boko Haram members left more than 50 people dead in Konduga town, Borno state. The attackers also reportedly burnt many houses, shops and vehicles, and abducted an unconfirmed number of people.

• On 26 January, Boko Haram members attacked Kawuri village, Borno State, killing between 52 and 85 people, and destroying the village market.

• On the same day, in Adamawa State, gunmen suspected of being Boko Haram members attacked a church in Waga Chakawa Village. Between 31 and 47 people were reportedly killed in the attack, including two policemen.

• On 19 January, suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked the village of Alau Ngawo

Fatie, Borno State, killing 18 people and causing many other residents to flee.

• On 14 January, a car bomb exploded in Maiduguri, Borno State, killing as many as 43 people and injuring many others. Boko Haram are suspected to be responsible.


The fighting in north-eastern Nigeria has reached the threshold of a non-international armed conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has defined a non-international armed conflict as: “protracted armed confrontations occurring between governmental armed forces and the forces of one or more armed groups, or between such groups arising on the territory of a State [party to the Geneva Conventions]. The armed confrontation has reached a minimum level of intensity and the parties involved in the conflict must show a minimum of organisation.”

In 2013, the Office of the Prosecutor in International Criminal Court (ICC) also determined the fighting in north-eastern Nigeria to be a non-international armed conflict. The preliminary investigations by the ICC are still ongoing.

Nigeria became a state party to the Rome Statute on 27 September 2001. As such, the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over crimes (as prescribed by the Rome Statute) committed on Nigerian territory or by Nigerian nationals from 1 July 2002 onwards.

In a situation of non-international armed conflict, Nigeria remains bound by its obligations under international human rights law. And all parties to the conflict, including non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram, are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL).


Since the beginning of 2014, attacks by suspected Boko Haram members have intensified, resulting in the deaths of more than 700 people, mainly civilians not directly participating in hostilities. Boko Haram has embarked on a campaign of widespread violence and human rights abuses, resulting in a general atmosphere of intimidation and fear among the population in north-eastern Nigeria. They have claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks in the north-east. As far as Amnesty International is able to ascertain, no other group or individuals have claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, it is possible that other groups or individuals have also carried out some of these attacks.

On 3 March suspected Boko Haram members attacked Jakana Village in the Konduga Local Government Area of Borno State. They killed between 40 and 48 civilians, and destroyed shops and the police station. Two displaced residents from Jakana village seeking refuge in Maiduguri told Amnesty International that many of their neighbours and families had been killed and their houses and shops burnt by the gunmen. Alhaji Umar described how he and his three year old son witnessed the killing of his younger brother who was a member of the

“civilian JTF” in the village. He said: “We hid in a nearby bush at the back of my house when the gunmen entered the village. They started shouting ‘Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!’ I took my three year old and we crept outside and hid between some trees. While we were there, the gunmen brought my brother out and cut his throat. They then shouted again ‘Allahu Akbar!’ My son nearly fainted with the shock of seeing his uncle being slit like that. He still has not recovered from the shock. I don’t even know where my wife and other children are at the moment.”

On 25 February, suspected Boko Haram members attacked a college in Yobe State, killing between 43 and 59 students and teachers. Several survivors and local residents told Amnesty International that the gunmen spent four hours in the school compound killing people and burning nearby houses and school buildings. They described how gunmen arrived around

9:00pm and started shooting indiscriminately, killing every male they found. Children who hid in a classroom were burned alive. Survivors and some eye witnesses told Amnesty International it took several hours before the army responded.

In an interview with Amnesty International, one of the staff at the school said: “When the gunmen entered the school compound, there was confusion. Everybody was running for safety. I and many students ran into the bush. Many of the children did not return after the attack. We don’t know what has happened to them. When I returned, my quarters had already been burned. As we speak, I’m staying with a relative. I don’t know what to do. I am fed up.”

On Tuesday 11 February, suspected Boko Haram members killed more than 50 people and burnt scores of homes in the village of Konduga, also in Borno state. Two eyewitnesses in Konduga village told Amnesty International that between 30 to 40 girls were abducted and taken away by the gunmen during the attack on a government-run secondary school in the village. The Chief Nursing Officer of the General Hospital in Konduga was also reportedly kidnapped by the gunmen.

Similar attacks have taken place in villages in Adamawa and Yobe states, leaving scores dead, injured and forcibly displaced.

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