News / Africa

UN: Boko Haram May Be Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

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Lisa Schlein
— The U.N. Human Rights Office has condemned an attack that killed more than 30 wedding guests in northern Nigeria Saturday.   The attack was blamed on the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.  The U.N. agency warns that members of the group, which is blamed for thousands of deaths, could be liable for crimes against humanity.

The U.N. Human Rights Office said it was appalled by the atrocious attack Saturday on a wedding convoy in Borno State, Nigeria.  Witnesses reported gunmen, believed to be members of Boko Haram, killed more than 30 people, including the groom. 

The road where the wedding party was ambushed is located near the border with Cameroon and is notorious for attacks by the militant Islamist group.  During the attack, a post of Nigeria's Joint Task Force was burned down, four soldiers were killed and a bridge was bombed.

In Geneva, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly condemned the assault and warned the perpetrators of such attacks faced possible prosecution from international courts.

“Members of Boko Haram and other groups and entities, if judged to have committed widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population, including on grounds such as religion or ethnicity, could be found guilty of crimes against humanity,” she said. 

Boko Haram militants have killed thousands of people since 2009 in their bid to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.  The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 8,000 people in northern Nigeria have fled into neighboring Cameroon to escape the escalating violence and another 5,000 have become internally displaced. 

The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states in mid-May and deployed additional troops to the area.  But this has not put a stop to the vicious attacks.

Pouilly said the human rights office also was concerned about reports it has received of human rights abuses and violations committed by government security forces when conducting operations.  She said the United Nations was closely following up these allegations with the Nigerian authorities.

“What we understand is the government has decided to take a positive step, which is to establish a panel to overview the cases of people who are being in detention now in connection with the insurgency and are assumed to be members of Boko Haram.  We understand the government through this audit is trying to find out whether abuses are indeed being committed and what we are trying to do is encourage the government to disclose the outcome of this audit,” said the spokeswoman. 

Pouilly said the panel was expected to issue a report on its investigations in the coming days. 

She called this review a positive step, but said a report was not sufficient to end the abuse and violence.  What was needed, she said, was for political and religious leaders to address the root causes of the insurgency and act accordingly to resolve the crisis.

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