Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin region, a region which continues to suffer from the combined effects of violent extremism, and a serious humanitarian crisis as well as human rights abuses and violations by terrorist elements and counter-terrorism measures.
Boko Haram continues to perpetrate violence against civilians in the Lake Chad Basin region with varied frequency and intensity through kidnappings, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as ambushes on towns and villages. Since October 2016, Boko Haram has shifted most of its assaults to military positions. It is unclear whether the military is the intended target. However, the upsurge in clashes with the military seems to be the result of reaction to the counter-insurgency operations of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), as well as a shift in tactics following the split in Boko Haram’s leadership last August between Abu Bakr Shekau and his former second in command Abu Musab al Barnawi. The recent trend of attacks appears to be in line with al Barnawi’s stated intention to focus operations less on Muslim civilians, and more on military, Western and Christian targets.
Despite the commendable military efforts by the region against Boko Haram, including the take-over of its stronghold in the Sambisa Forest in Nigeria, Boko Haram retains the capacity to carry out attacks, as illustrated by its attack on 3 January on a military check point in Baroua in Diffa region, Niger; the 7 January attack on a Nigerian military brigade in Buni Yadi town, Yobe State in north-eastern Nigeria; and the multiple suicide attacks in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, Nigeria on 8 January.
Far too long a time has passed since the fateful day of the kidnapping of the Chibok Girls. The release of some of the girls, especially the 21 that were released on 13 October following negotiations facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Government is encouraging. According to the Nigerian Government, negotiations for the release of the remaining girls are continuing. SRSG Chambas continues his engagement with Nigerian authorities and international partners to determine how best to support the Government’s efforts for the release of the remaining abductees. In his consultations, SRSG Chambas continues to stress the need for the international community to support Nigeria in addressing the issue of mass abductions by Boko Haram, the rehabilitation and reintegration of abductees, and for better humanitarian access to the north-east of the country.
Under-Secretary-General Stephen O’Brien will brief on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Lake Chad Basin region and the challenges therein. Countries of the Lake Chad Basin continue to face a serious humanitarian crisis. The fact that the number of people in need of assistance has continued to increase and underscores the seriousness of the situation and the need to address the root causes of the crisis if further violence, displacement, and loss of lives are to be averted
The ongoing violence has had devastating effects in the region. It has destroyed lives, livestock and food stocks, paralyzed the local economy and undermined the economic development of the affected countries. The economic impact of the crisis is substantial and is estimated at about US$ 9 billion in north-eastern Nigeria alone.
Boko Haram’s destructive activities are taking place in areas of entrenched poverty, marginalization and high levels of income and social inequality, caused, in part, by an absence of state authority and a severe financial crisis. The UN response, as well as that of concerned States and partners, will need to address the immediate violence and humanitarian needs, while simultaneously addressing the root causes of violent extremism and radicalization. Only a combined approach will help in repairing the material and social damage inflicted on communities. The overall goal of the response to the Lake Chad Basin crisis should seek to achieve durable solutions, recovery and sustainable development. Support should also entail measures to help reverse the adverse effects of climate change on the livelihoods of communities in the affected areas, including the resuscitation of Lake Chad and the preservation of its micro-economy.
Despite the challenges, progress has been made in addressing the immediate humanitarian needs, as well as the restoration of state authority and local governance systems in reclaimed areas. In northern Nigeria, the UN has significantly increased its physical presence to help improve social cohesion, basic social services, livelihoods, reconciliation and psycho-social support for returnees and internally displaced persons, as well as in the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure and in building the capacity of local governments. The three-phased reconstruction and rehabilitation plan unveiled by the Nigerian Government on 7 January for the affected areas in the north-east over a five-year timeline is a welcome development and deserves support.
Grave human rights violations and abuses have accompanied Boko Haram attacks and the counter-terrorism responses. Women and girls remain subject to sexual violence, including sexual slavery and forced marriage. Counter insurgency operations, both national and under the MNJTF, have been accused of breaches of international humanitarian law; dire detention conditions for Boko Haram suspects, including children; and the prolonged holding of IDPs and refugees by security forces for ‘screening’ purposes.
Notable measures have been taken by the Government of Nigeria to address incidents of sexual and gender-based violence against displaced women and children in camps. We urge the authorities in all countries of the region to strengthen their response to such violations and abuses, including by providing assistance to survivors, bringing all perpetrators to justice and providing targeted protection services in camps and host communities.
There have been encouraging reports of surrender of former Boko Haram fighters in Chad and Niger, who are mostly nationals of the two countries. We encourage the authorities of the concerned countries to examine their rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for ex-Boko Haram fighters and their families, to enable UN and partners to better support the programmes.
The promotion and protection of the human rights of victims of terrorism must be a priority in national responses to acts of terrorism. Respect for due process and prompt trials for persons detained for Boko Haram related offences, especially children, who should be treated as victims and dealt with in accordance with international standards for juvenile justice, should guide broader counter-terrorism measures. All children encountered in military operations should be handed over to child protection actors and standard operating procedures should be developed in this regard.
The importance of ensuring that military and security responses respect international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law and take all precautionary and preventive measures during operations to ensure the protection of the civilian population is self-evident. Failure to do so could fuel pre-existing grievances and perpetuate conflict. As the Secretary-General has emphasized, counter-terrorism measures and the protection of human rights should not be seen as conflicting goals, but rather as complementary and mutually reinforcing.
To support Member States’ efforts to combat terrorism and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice, the UN continues to provide strategic counter-terrorism technical assistance and trainings. Additionally, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the support of the European Union, held in December 2016 a high-level meeting with Nigerian federal and local authorities to consider approaches to prosecuting, rehabilitating and reintegrating persons associated with Boko Haram. The consultations underlined the need to develop a comprehensive legal framework to deal with persons associated with Boko Haram, including a prosecution strategy and to design and implement human rights compliant and gender-sensitive rehabilitation and reintegration strategies. Similar consultations will be proposed to Cameroon, Chad and Niger during a visit by the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee planned for early this year. The visit will aim at facilitating the development of national comprehensive and integrated approaches to prosecuting, rehabilitating and reintegrating persons associated with Boko Haram and to promote regional cooperation in criminal law and other related matters.
The MNJTF is presently undertaking military operations in the thickly forested riverine shores of Lake Chad. The operation faces unique challenges, including a difficult terrain, lack of dedicated airlift capability especially for casualty evacuation, logistics and sustenance of troops, amphibious capabilities, IED detection equipment, night vision equipment, reconnaissance assets and long-range field communication equipment.
The contribution of 50 million Euros by the European Union Commission to the African Union Commission in support of the MNJTF, and funds provided by other bilateral donors need to be disbursed in a timely manner to the Lake Chad Basin Commission to enable the regional force to address the challenges it faces.
A military approach will not bring an end to Boko Haram. Affected countries must simultaneously tackle the humanitarian consequences as well as the root causes that led to the emergence of the group. Military operations should be followed with stabilization measures, the restoration of state authority and addressing the social, economic and political grievances of marginalised communities. The four countries of the Lake Chad Basin region are, without distinction, equally affected by the Boko Haram scourge, in a context of dire financial crisis and associated political and social tensions. They need the Security Council’s and the wider international community’s support to succeed in their efforts to bring about stability, and build the resilience of affected communities.
The UN remains committed and ready to support regional efforts to address the consequences and root causes of the Boko Haram crisis. However, the apparent failure of Economic Community of Central African States and the Economic Community of West African States to hold their long-planned joint Ministerial Summit on Boko Haram is of concern. The UN continues to encourage the region to develop a common strategy to address the drivers of the Boko Haram crisis. The support of the Security Council in urging ECCAS and ECOWAS to convene their joint meeting will underscore the urgency of the matter.