Tag Archive | "Africa"

Renewed Violence in the Central African Republic Threatens Fragile Peace

Photo Credit: Global Risk Insights

Photo Credit: Global Risk Insights

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has reported renewed violence this week in the Central African Republic (CAR). On September 16th, after months of relative peace between predominantly Christian anti-Balaka supporters and predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels, 26 civilians were killed, a UN aid worker was injured, and UN humanitarian offices were looted. The violence occurred in and around Kaga Bandoro, a market town 330km North of the capital Bangui. A spokesperson for CAR President Faustin Archange Touadera said that members of the ex-Seleka rebel group “went door to door and killed their victims[,]” including the village chief, and described the execution style killings as “a massacre.”

This recent flare in violence comes after a summer of relative calm in the country, the first since the Seleka uprising began in 2012. Last week at the UN, President Touadera said that “the [CAR] has turned its back on past dark days,” and promised a brighter future based on a four-stage framework for change: peace and security; national reconciliation; economic recovery; and justice and human rights. National reconciliation is to be achieved through a newly established hybrid criminal justice mechanism, the Special Criminal Court (CPS), established to prosecute the Seleka and Anti-Balaka responsible for extreme violence. In this fragile region of the country, renewed violence could stall efforts of the CPS to achieve the second stage of President Touadera’s plan to bring reconciliation to the nation.

In 2012, when Seleka rebels began an assault on the government of President Francois Bozize, the security situation in the CAR began to rapidly devolve. In a matter of months, ethnic violence overcame the country, and the CAR fell into a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis compounded by violence and widespread human rights violations. Following the coup in early 2013, unintegrated Christian militias came together, united under the banner of Anti-Balaka, to resist the rebel power-grab. During the conflict Seleka and Anti-Balaka fighters became engaged in a cycle of tit-for-tat retributive revenge killings. Individuals from both sides are accused of targeting civilians, murder, rape, torture, enlisting child soldiers, destroying humanitarian missions, forcibly displacing civilians, engaging in widespread persecution, looting, and pillaging. In the case of Anti-Balaka, there are also accusations of ethnic cleansing. This conflict resulted an estimated one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), the rapes of thousands of innocent women and girls, the destruction of humanitarian missions, and the death of thousands of civilians, many of them children.

In January 2014, in order to bring peace to a nation at war, the CAR government established the Transitionary National Council (TNC), approved a new constitution, and replaced coup leader Michael Djotodia with interim president Catherine Samba-Panza. In July 2014, through mediation by the TNC, Seleka and Anti-Balaka leaders signed a peace agreement which formally disbanded the Seleka alliance, and all groups were promised inclusion in the future government. These developments, however, failed to end the violence; ex-Seleka rebels who did not lay down arms, and Anti-Balaka militias, continued to commit grave atrocities throughout the country.

In April 2015, interim president Samba-Panza executed a law creating the CPS. The CPS was created to investigate and prosecute all those responsible for grave human rights violations in the country since former president Bozize took power in 2003. The CPS is the first ‘hybrid justice’ institution created through national legislation to prosecute perpetrators of mass atrocities, and is seen as an inventive and transformative mechanism which possesses the potential to end the cycles of impunity-inspired violence in the CAR. Once the CPS is established it will exist as a special court within the domestic legal system of the CAR, will have a mandate of five years, will be located in Bangui, and will include both CAR citizens and other non-CAR citizens as staff and judiciary. The official mandate of the CPS is to conduct preliminary investigations and judicial examinations, in order to try “all war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Central African Republic since 2003.” Despite progress, attacks against civilians remained “alarming and widespread” through early 2016. It was not until late Spring of 2016 when the pinnacle of violence finally passed.

The ultimate success of the CPS in changing the trajectory of the CAR is likely to be determined by specific organizational factors of the court which have yet to be legislated, and future unpredictable events in the country. The CPS is, however, a hybrid justice mechanism like none other before, and is the country’s best chance to end the vicious cycle of impunity for mass atrocities which has plagued it since independence. While President Touadera seeks only brighter days ahead, he also recognizes that despite progress “the situation is a fragile one” and that the CAR “absolutely needs the support of its bilateral and regional partners.” If recent violence in Kaga Bandoro is an indication of, or may become a catalyst for, renewed violence elsewhere in the country there is a risk that it could derail progress towards national reconciliation. MINUSCA is now reinforcing positions in and around Kaga Bandoro and  stepping up patrols to protect civilians, and will continue its mandate in the CAR in order to prevent further violence.

Jeremy S Goldstein is a 4L J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in Denver, Colorado USA; Senior Managing Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Senegal’s Habré Sentence Sends a Strong Message

Picture

Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habre raises his hand during court proceedings in Dakar, Senegal, Monday, May 30, 2016. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam declared Habre guilty and sentenced him to life in prison for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, in a packed courtroom, Monday.(AP Photo/Carley Petesch)

For the court of one country to prosecute the ruler of another is unprecedented. But that is what happened two weeks ago in a historic first, when an ad hoc tribunal in Dakar, Senegal, sentenced Hissene Habré to life in prison after finding the former president of Chad guilty of international human rights crimes. The tribunal was established in Senegal with the help of the African Union and applied international criminal law, including the treaty against torture.

The verdict sends a powerful message to African dictators, putting them on notice that they might share Habré’s fate. It encourages human rights advocates seeking to bring to justice African leaders who have allegedly committed crimes against humanity. Until now, such indictments and prosecutions have taken place at the International Criminal Court or special tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands, far away from where the crimes took place. For example, the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was sentenced to 50 years for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. Finally, the case also gives hope to victims of serious human rights abuses inflicted by their own governments.

Now 73, Habré — who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990 — is called the “African Pinochet” for his brutality and cruel suppression of anyone suspected to be a dissident. A truth commission created by his successor government reported that his administration had killed more than 40,000 people and tortured, detained, raped, summarily executed, or imprisoned hundreds of thousands.

Habré was first indicted in 2000 by a judge in Senegal, where he was living in luxury after his ouster, but the court found that the crimes charged had not been codified there and the case was thrown out. The survivors took the case to Belgium, invoking universal jurisdiction, under which national courts are authorized to try cases of the most serious crimes against humanity even though they had not been committed in that nation’s territory and even if they are committed by government leaders in other states.

Senegal refused to comply with repeated requests from Belgium to extradite Habré. After several legal twists, the International Court of Justice in The Hague called upon Senegal to either prosecute Habré or extradite him. More than 90 victims and witnesses testified, and there was ample evidence from the thousands of files found in the old police buildings that included lists of prisoners and deaths in detention. The dreaded secret police unit he created carried out some of the worst abuses against suspected political opponents. Habré was found guilty of crimes against humanity, summary executions, torture and rape.

It must be noted that Habré had come to power with U.S. support. Despite his dismal human rights record and brutal repression of dissidents, the U.S. continued to give Chad millions in military and economic aid. This was acknowledged by Secretary of State John Kerry, who welcomed the verdict, saying, “As a country committed to the respect for human rights and the pursuit ofjustice, this is also an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.”

The trial is indeed a turning point for Africa, which has failed to hold accountable repressive leaders like Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur but still travels freely in Africa. Habré’s conviction is a fitting tribute to those who have fought for generations to extend the end of impunity into Africa for perpetrators of grave human rights violations. It moves forward the efforts that began at Nuremberg after World War Il to bring Nazi leaders to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and expanded with the creation of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Ved Nanda (vnanda@law.du.edu) is Thompson G. Marsh professor of international law and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. This article was originally posted as a Denver Post Op-ed, which can be found here.

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War and Displacement – A Nigerian Story

Photo Credit: Vibe.com

Photo Credit: Vibe.com

In 1903, the Sokoto caliphate in Northern Nigeria, Niger, and southern Cameroon fell, placing the preceding areas under British control. After the British took control, some of the Muslims in these areas expressed their resistance to Western influences. In 2002, Mohammed Yusuf formed Boko Haram, which in loose translation means western education is a sin. The United States has designated Boko Haram, whose primary goal is to create an Islamic state, as a terrorist organization. Since its conception in 2002, the organization is responsible for thousands of deaths.

In 2009, Nigeria’s security force killed Mohammed Yusuf, and Nigeria thought it had seen the end of the organization. However, the organization reorganized under Abubakar Shekau. Under Shekau’s leadership, the organization has led indiscriminate, targeted attacks against school children, police, religious leaders, politicians, and civilians. These tragic crimes led Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency almost three years ago in May, in the three states where Boko Haram is the strongest—Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa.

Unfortunately, Boko Haram continues to gain traction. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 Chibok school girls and released a video stating that the girls would serve as their personal slaves or be sold off. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has been working with President Goodluck Jonathan, to find the children and stop the Boko Haram. Ki-Moon stated that “the targeting of children and schools is against international law and cannot be justified under any circumstances”; therefore, the Nigerian Government has been urged to “take all necessary measures to ensure [the children’s] safe return and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”

Among the tens of thousands of people that have been killed, injured, or kidnapped, there are hundreds of thousands of people that have been displaced due to the violence in their countries. According to the National Emergency Management Agency-Nigeria (“NEMA”), 250,000 people have been internally displaced, and over 61,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. By the end of 2012, there were 17.7 million internally displaced persons in the world, and only 1.5 million returned to their place of origin. Most internally displaced persons never return home. In the first half of 2013, over 5.9 million people are refugees within or outside of the borders of their countries. The United States resettles less than 80,000 people each year. Could the United States be doing more? Could every country do more to save people and lower the hurdles of resettlement?

It has now been over 670 days since over 200 Chibok school girls were kidnapped. In September 2015, news emerged that negotiations were underway and there was a dim light shining to the girls’ release. However, Boko Haram has still not returned the girls to their families. Unfortunately, this story has fallen silent in the public eye. The United Nations set aside October 11 to be International Day of the Girl Child, but is this new international day of recognition enough to save future girls, or any individuals for that matter, from being used to send a message?

This article only covers one current war, in one part of the world, affecting millions of people all around the world. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, stated “[e]very child, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, social status, language, nationality or religion, has the right to education and to live without fear of violence.” Children should not be used as pawns or soldiers in wars and millions of people should not have to lose their home. To learn more about how to be involved and continue to raise awareness on this issue, follow #BringBackOurGirls.

 

Cheyenne Moore is a 3L at the University of Denver and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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ICC Convicts Former President Bemba for Atrocities in Central Africa

Photo Credit: Witness.org

Photo Credit: Witness.org

On Monday March 21, 2016 the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 2002-2003 situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). Bemba was convicted by the ICC of two counts of crimes against humanity, for murder and rape, and three counts of war crimes, for murder, rape and pillaging. Most importantly though, this is the first trial at the ICC to focus on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and the first time a defendant has been convicted for command responsibility for failing to take action to stop crimes he knows are being committed by his troops. More than 5000 victims participated in the hearings, the highest number in ICC history.

In 2002 Bemba was commander-in-chief of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) when then president of the CAR, Ange-Felix Patasse, requested his assistance in putting down a coup waged by a group of soldiers loyal to former CAR president Kolingba. In coordination with Colonel Qaddafi of Lybia, Bemba sent 1,500 MLC troops to the CAR, who were accused of committing more than 1,000 rapes, in addition to widespread murder and pillaging.

Article 7 of the Rome Statute, which provides for the establishment and administration of the ICC, defines crimes against humanity as “acts when committed as a part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” Article 7(g) identifies “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as acts which may be invoked to constitute the actus reas of a crime against humanity. Article 8 defines war crimes as grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, including acts against persons or property, when committed as part of a plan or policy or as a part of a large-scale commission of such crimes. Under this definition, the over 1,000 rapes committed by the MLC troops, rises to the level required by the statute in a non-international conflict, and the actus reas of rape is expressly included in 8(2)(e)(vi). 8(2)(f) does limit the situations in which rape or sexual violence can be considered ample actus reas to convict of war crimes to those where there is a protracted armed conflict, hence why this application has never previously been appropriate. In this case, however, the widespread use of rape as a weapon was in evidence from the over 5,000 victim participants.

Commentators have been especially impressed with prosecutors use of Article 28(a) of the Rome statute which allows for a military commander to be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by forced under their control when the military commander knew or should have know that the forcer were committing those crimes, and when that commander failed to take all ‘necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power’ to prevent the commission or to submit the matter to authorities for investigation. Under this Article, the ICC tribunal convicted Bemba as a result of acts committed by his troops which he did not personally commit. This precedent has been heralded by a host of human rights organizations including Amnesty International who said that this verdict, and the principles it espouses, represent a “historic moment in the battle for justice for victims of violence in CAR and around the World.”

This verdict has assured justice for thousands of victims of sexual violence perpetrated as a weapon of war, and the ICC, a beleaguered institution, can now proudly claim to hold commanders responsible for the actions of their troops. However, this investigation began nearly ten years ago, the trial took four years, and the verdict came almost two years after close of arguments. The ICC handles cases which are complex and sensitive, often taking a long time to go through evidence and allow for victim participation. Critics of the court cite its long lag-times, exorbitant costs, and lack of international participation as reasons why it has been a failure at bringing perpetrators, especially those outside of Africa, to justice. Hopefully those critics concerns are at least partially dissuaded by the conviction of Jean-Pierre Bemba, because this verdict is more than just another conviction of a despised African war-lord. By convicting Bebma of rape as a result of command responsibility under Article 28, it is a huge step forward towards strengthening the enforcement of the principles that lay at the foundation of the ICC.

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Critical Analysis: R2P – Whose responsibility is it?

Nigerian Refugees in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW. http://www.dw.de/stranded-near-the-nigerian-border-a-visit-to-the-minawao-refugee-camp/a-18275323

Nigerian Refugees in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW. http://www.dw.de/stranded-near-the-nigerian-border-a-visit-to-the-minawao-refugee-camp/a-18275323

On April 14, 2014 the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls began trending on Twitter as the abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in Chibok flooded news outlets around the world.  The Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, and, with the exception of a few victims who have since escaped, the majority of the girls whereabouts are still unknown. According to UNICEF, in the year since the Chibok abductions, 1.2 million people in northeast Nigeria have been displaced due to Boko Haram-insurgency. Schools have been a target for Boko Haram since its militant operations began in 2009. In the past three years over 300 schools have been destroyed in the northern region of Nigeria, depriving 10,000 children of an education.

Perhaps the most troubling trends since Boko Haram’s reign of terror began have been the increasing number of the displaced being subject to human trafficking and Nigeria’s lack of effectiveness in preventing it from spiraling out of control. According to the Global Slavery Index an estimated 800,000 people are enslaved in Nigeria. However, by the Nigerian government’s own admission, 8 million children are currently subject to human trafficking. Many of those trafficked children are forced into labor, marriage, and prostitution. The displacement camps and their surrounding communities have had their access to humanitarian aid cut off by the violence, rendering them ineffective in supporting the overwhelming amount of refugees flooding their streets. The overcrowding, lack of food, and fear for safety has forced many young girls into prostitution, and young boys into joining the recruitment of Boko Haram in the armed conflict.

These atrocities have not gone unnoticed by the international community.

Hundreds of Nigerian Refugee Tents in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW.

Hundreds of Nigerian Refugee Tents in Minawao, Cameroon. Credit: DW.

#BringBackOurGirls was tweeted 3.3 million times in the month following the kidnappings in Chibok, and UNICEF has responded by supplying 60,000 children with psychosocial support and by raising an estimated $3.84 million to further its efforts during 2015. Yetdespite worldwide awareness of the crisis in Nigeria the international community has done little. Similar to its inability to address the plight of the Palestinian refugees, international humanitarian law has yet again proven to be inefficient in address humanitarian crises in an urgent and effective manner. While intergovernmental organizations and state commenters have been in favor of implementing a Responsibility to Protect in these situations, they have yet to do so.

Is the lack of any real progress towards the implementation of Responsibility to Protect an indication that it may not be the answer to grave and immediate humanitarian atrocities? In late 2011, multiple states took a stand against a United Nations Security Council draft resolution draft on Syria’s violent response to the protests in Damascus against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. China and Russia vetoed the draft fearing that it would be construed by western states as legitimizing “unilateral sanctions and [an attempt] to forcefully overthrow regimes.” Brazil, India, South Africa, and Lebanon abstained from the vote, with South Africa expressly stating its concern that the resolution may be abused to justify implementation of “punitive measures on Syria.” Brazil, in its comments, stated its belief that “[a] meaningful, inclusive national dialogue leading to reform” was the only answer to the Syrian crisis.

Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President-elect, stated in an op-ed piece for the New York Times: “The answer to defeating Boko Haram begins and ends with Nigeria.” This is a unique answer for many states facing seemingly insurmountable issues with terror like that of Nigeria. However, it may very well be the key to effectively staving immediate humanitarian crises in the future. Buhari’s plans focus on Boko Haram’s target – education. Instead of waiting for the international community to accept its Responsibility to Protect Nigerian citizens from the atrocities committed by Boko Haram, Buhari seems prepared to set the onus on his own government, stating:

“My government will first act to defeat [Boko Haram] militarily and then ensure that we provide the very education it despises to help our people help themselves. Boko Haram will soon learn that, as Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’”

It remains to be seen how effective Buhari’s government will be at shouldering the Responsibility to Protect in Nigeria. However, its success could go a long way in solving the conundrum of the international community: “whose responsibility is it?” In the meantime, the international community will continue to grapple with forming a framework in which the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect can adequately address future humanitarian concerns.

Philip Nickerson is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is Managing and Production Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Critical Analysis: The World is Taking Notice of Boko Haram

With the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month, the bombing in a bus station on April 14 that killed 71 and injured 124, and a car bombing on May 1st, the international community is waking up to the horrors of Boko Haram.

A militant Islamist group, Boko Haram was initially founded as a religious organization by radical Muslim cleric Mohhammed Yusuf in 2002. Yusuf set up a complex and school in the northeast city of Maiduguri under the premise that all western education was corrupt and sinful. In fact, Boko Haram, loosely translated from the local Hausa language means “western education is forbidden.” The complex quickly became a recruiting ground for jihadist militants and Boko Haram carried out a series of attacks on government offices and police in Maiduguri. Following a shoot-out with police in 2009, Nigerian security forces reported the death of Yusuf and declared that the group had been disbanded.

The group did not disband, and in 2010, current Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a 25-minute video clip denouncing western civilization and pledging to continue militant attacks. Since then, the group has staged numerous assaults including a bombing of police and UN headquarters in Nigeria. The group has continued to reject any notions of opening a dialog with the Nigerian government. Boko Haram was labeled a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department in November of 2013, and following the group’s public statement vowing to attack the U.S. and Europe last year, the U.S. issued a $7 million bounty for the capture of Shekau.

Parents of the kidnapped girls plead for more help to safely return their daughters. Image Source: Reuters

Nigerian parents of the kidnapped girls plead for more help to ensure a safe return of their daughters. Image Source: Reuters

On April 14 over 100 armed Boko Haram militants stormed an all-girl boarding school in Chibok in the remote north-eastern state of Borno and kidnapped over 200 young girls age 16 to 18. The girls had been called in to sit for their final physics exam when all other schools in the area had been closed due to security concerns. While two groups of girls escaped, recent reports indicate that the remaining kidnapped girls have been taken into Boko Haram strongholds in the Sambisa forest and sold as brides to the militants. Shekau first threatened to capture young women and girls as slaves and brides in video released in May 2013 and it is believed that the group intends to adhere to ancient Islam beliefs that state women and girls captured during war are slaves with whom their “masters’ can have sex with at will. Parents of the kidnapped girls have organized searches into the area, and last week several hundred protesters braved heavy rain to assemble in Abuja, and deliver a letter to the National Assembly complaining that the government was not doing enough to search for the girls. “All we want from the government is to help us bring our children back,” said one parent last week.

Other schools are also in an abysmal situation. At least three professors have been killed at the University of Maiduguri, students have withdrawn and teachers have relocated out of fear and threats of continued violence.

With recent announcement that Nigeria had surpassed South Africa as the leading economy in sub-Saharan Africa, and with the World Economic Forum on Africa set to take place in Abuja on May 9th, the government and President Goodluck Jonathan are struggling to quell concerns over recent violence. While security has been stepped up amid fears that Boko Haram is moving its focus closer to the capital, many are reporting that it appears that the group intends to align itself with similar extremist assemblies in Niger, Mali, and the Middle East. Scholars and members of the international legal and political community are calling for assistance to be given to the Nigerian government.

Former British prime minister and current UN advisor Gordon Brown has called for international military assistance to be offered to the Nigerian government in a hunt for the missing girls. “The International community must do something to protect these girls,” Brown said in an interview last week. “We could provide military help to the Nigerians to track down the whereabouts of the girls before they’re dispersed throughout Africa.” A government advisor to the President said that the government welcomes international assistance in the matter.

Local community protests against the Boko Haram for stealing young school girls. Image Source: BBC/AFP

Local women dressed in red to protest against the Boko Haram for stealing over 200 young school girls and criticized the government’s rescue efforts. Image Source: BBC/AFP

Large-scale pledges are not bringing home the missing 200 girls, and the guerrilla nature of the insurgency requires specialized local measures. “We know where these girls are being held in the forest,” one local Nigerian soldier reported, “[but] somebody high up in the chain of command is leaking up information to these people.” Although officials have long ruled out foreign intervention, many are calling for improved tactics. A representative of the government said that “if countries can help us by way of arming our people through modern surveillance equipment, for defence and all that, it will be most welcome. [But] what Boko Haram is doing is not a formal kind of fight, but a guerrilla kind of fight, and it is only the local people that will tell you how to fight it.”

It seems then, that a two-fold approach must be taken, one where large-scale international assistance is given to the Nigerian government to combat overall strikes of violence and immediate and targeted assistance is given to troops in Chibok in order to bring home the abducted girls as quickly as possible. Whether it be through international intervention, or the systematic arming of local governments, without assistance, the outwardly booming Nigerian government seems to be powerless to quell the continued threat of violence from Boko Haram.

 

Bree Plasters is a rising 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and is the Executive Editor-Elect for the 2014-2015 Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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March 14 attack in Nigeria

Critical Analysis: Religiously Motivated Violence Escalates in Nigeria

On Monday, April 7, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law will welcome Nigerian human rights attorney Hauwa Ibrahim. Ibrahim has spent her career protecting woman from the harsh penalties meted out under Shariah law in Nigeria’s northern states such as death by stoning and amputations for stealing. Another area of grave concern in Nigeria is the lack of religious freedom, primarily due to attacks by the Boko Haram, a fundamentalist terrorist group that seeks to overthrow the secular Nigerian government and replace it with a theocracy based on Islamic law.

Nigeria is the largest country in Africa with a population of over 177 million people. The country is divided approximately equally between Muslims and Christians. Islam is the dominant religion in the northern states, including the twelve northern states that have adopted Sharia law, while Christianity is most prevalent in the southern states. Interreligious conflicts occur frequently along Nigeria’s central states, or the “Middle Belt” where Christians and Muslims live in approximately equal numbers.

March 14 attack in Nigeria

The March 14 attacks killed approximately 150 people and destroyed 240 homes (World Watch Monitor)

On Friday, March 14, the tragic trend of sectarian violence continued in three villages in the central northern state of Kaduna. At about 11 pm, Muslim Fulani herdsmen raided the mainly Christian villages with guns and machetes. The Fulani are one of Nigeria’s 250 ethnic groups, are predominately Muslim, and have a history of land grievances against Nigerian Christians. The herdsmen descended on the villages and burned 240 houses and three churches to the ground. More than 150 people were killed and the victims were buried in mass graves.

One survivor, Emmanuel Tonak, recounted the attack: “We were fast asleep when we heard gun shots and chanting of ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great]. Suddenly we came out and saw them advancing and some houses in flames. They came around 11 pm. I escaped into the forest, when they came I started hearing cries and gun shots.” Because the villagers’ homes were destroyed, many other survivors slept in the local primary school and other areas nearby. Sadly, the attack in Kaduna is unlikely to be the last. Since 1999, religiously motivated violence has killed more than 14,000 Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, displaced thousands, and destroyed churches, mosques, businesses, and private homes.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan commission that monitors global religious liberty and makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress, has recommended that Nigeria be labeled a “Country of Particular Concern” for the past four years for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. As USCIRF explains, the United States can play a role in mitigating the sectarian violence in Nigeria including by prioritizing religious freedom in U.S.-Nigerian bilateral relations (which is significant as Nigeria is the eigth largest U.S. aid recipient) and officially designating Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern under Section 402(b)(1) of the International Religious Freedom Act.

 

Bryan Neihart is a third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Survey Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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