Civilians feel threatened by all forces…Military seen as aggressor
Recommendation: demobilizing and integrating
This report advocates for “amends” for victims of incidental harm—recognition, apologies, monetary compensation, or other forms of assistance. Amends are a critical component of addressing civilian harm, and are distinct from reparations, which are a legal remedy to which victims are entitled for violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and criminal law.
Civilians want security forces to be more proactive and consistent in protecting communities from violence, and also in addressing the harm they cause. In addition to ethical (and legal) reasons, our research nds that addressing harm can positively in uence the perceptions and loyalty of local populations. Whether harm is simply acknowledged by the responsible party, or amended with compensation or tangible assistance, the process of dignifying loss and recognizing fault is critical to breaking the cycle of violence, and gaining the support of those most a ected.
When asked what kind of response civilians speci cally wanted to see from their government, the majority of civilians expressed support for the creation of a mechanism to address civilian harm. This mechanism, according to many civilians, should begin with public acknowledgement of harm caused by all sides. Such a process, it was argued, is critical to begin the healing process. But without any process to recognize harm or assist victims, civilians believe the government and military are not sincere in their e ort to protect civilians, or rebuild communities.141
A woman in her 20s ed ghting between the military and Boko Haram in Borno state. She lost everything, including members of her family. She hopes that the government will not neglect civilians at the expense of rehabilitating combatants. “We do not understand why militants and defectors of Boko Haram are receiving comprehensive care and rehabilitation programming, while those of us that were abducted, raped, or victimized have not received trauma counseling, rehabilitation services, or other government assistance.”142
Going beyond recognition and support services, several civilians insisted they are incapable of recovering without direct nancial support from the government. According to an IDP in Borno state, “We feel the government should compensate victims of abuse by security forces. Other people lost their property and livelihoods and need government support to get back on their feet.”143
Such a mechanism for assistance to victims has, in fact, been established by the Nigerian government, and is discussed below. However, when asked about any post-harm assistance mechanism—whether local or government-run—most civilians said they were not aware of any such assistance or how to benefit from it.
Nigeria’s struggle against Boko Haram is one of the gravest security threats in the world today. Violent extremism has devastated communities in the northeast of the country, but so too has the response to Boko Haram. Civilians have been harmed by Nigeria’s security forces, neighboring states’ forces, and allied armed groups. Civilians told us that the fight against Boko Haram is being conducted at their expense, rather than with their safety as the goal. While most civilians feel Boko Haram has perpetrated the majority of harm to them and their families, they also feel that Nigerian security forces and their allies are not adequately protecting civilians. In fact, many civilians believe Nigerian and ally forces are responsible for serious human rights abuses and incidental civilian harm.15
This report argues that the only effective way to restore security and combat violent extremism is to put civilian protection at the heart of Nigeria’s military operations. The military must not only actively protect civilians from Boko Haram, it must also work to ensure its operations to combat the extremist group do not harm those same civilans. By creating a secure environment, the armed forces will help break the cycle of violence, and gain the trust and support of affected communities. 15
Incidental civilian harm, distinct from violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, is defined as a loss of life, injury, or property loss that occurs as a consequence of legally conducted military or armed group action during armed conflict.
Security Personnel Views of Protection Challenges
Although protection of civilians falls primarily to the Nigerian government and military, research finds that many civilians and members of the security forces often did not see this as the reality.
Instead, members of both groups believed that security forces were deployed only to defeat Boko Haram, not to protect civilians. In fact, armed forces have too often defined their roles in terms of trying to take militant lives, rather than trying to save civilian lives. The lack of a strong shared understanding of state actors’ roles in civilian protection has left vulnerable groups to fend for themselves.
According to research and the views of all respondents, Nigeria’s security forces have fallen short in three major ways. They have:
1) failed to protect vulnerable communities from violence;
2) failed to prevent collateral damage during counter-Boko Haram operations; and
3) directly targeted civilians with unlawful detention, harassment, destruction of property, sexual violence, indiscriminate targeting of certain groups (e.g. young men), torture, and excessive use of force causing injury and death.
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Contributed by: Evelyn Groenink, African Investigative Publishing Collective