2.1 The Issue
Since 2009, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, has waged an insurgency against the secular government of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands and leading to widespread displacement. Nigerian forces, with assistance from neighboring countries, have pushed Boko Haram out of several provinces in Nigeria, but have so far been unable to fully curtail the violence.
The Nigerian government has requested international assistance in the fight against Boko Haram, mainly in the form of military equipment. Some countries, including the United States, have provided limited support, but many are hesitant, in part because of the Nigerian government’s lack of response to human rights abuses by its security services. International humanitarian organizations and the international press have reported extensive human rights abuses by Nigerian forces, especially the military. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these abuses drive public support for Boko Haram. Observers estimate that during certain periods the security services have killed as many civilians as Boko Haram has. Even so, successive Nigerian governments have largely dismissed the charges and conducted few credible investigations.
The current Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, has said that he is restoring discipline within the military and, in September 2015, promised to issue new rules of engagement designed to protect civilians. Thus far, those steps appear to have had little practical consequence. As Boko Haram attacks continue to inflict death, displacement, and economic damage on Nigeria and its neighbors, many governments and international governing bodies face growing pressure to act on behalf of the lives, homes, and human rights of those facing both these conflicting forces.