Boko Haram Impacts All Facets of Life, Nigeria’s Permanent Representative Stresses
Recent progress against Boko Haram notwithstanding, Africa’s Lake Chad Basin continued to suffer a “staggering” and under-funded humanitarian crisis, the United Nations political affairs chief told the Security Council today, warning that Governments across the region had been forced to divert already scarce resources to fight terrorism and other security challenges.
“Without question, Boko Haram’s combat capacity has diminished,” said Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, as he briefed the Council this afternoon. Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin (document S/2017/764) — outlining developments on the ground and the Council’s March visit there — he pointed to successful operations by the Multinational Joint Task Force comprising personnel from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
Nevertheless, he continued, suicide attacks by Boko Haram continued and some 10.7 million people across the region were now in need of humanitarian assistance, with food insecurity high and thousands of farmers having already missed four planting seasons due to conflict. Countries of the region had had no choice but to divert much of their national budgets from development to address security challenges, he said, adding that international funding had also fallen significantly short with the $1.5 billion regional appeal for 2017 funded at only 40 per cent.
Fatima Sheu Imam, Director of the Network of Civil Society Organizations in Borno State, Nigeria, also briefed the Council via teleconference, noting that her group provided assistance to victims of violence stemming from insurgent activities, including those perpetrated by Boko Haram. The situation remained tense and fragile, with recent reports of stability fostering a false sense of security. A lack of food, the collapse of economic activity and increased marginalization of women and girls reflected growing humanitarian needs. Noting that her group and other local actors lacked the security operations that non-governmental organizations and the United Nations enjoyed, she urged the Council to bring assistance to the many people in need in the region.
As Council members took the floor, delegates expressed serious concern over those challenges, while many also welcomed the strong and coordinated response of the Multinational Joint Task Force. Several speakers outlined their Governments’ responses to the multiple crises in the Lake Chad Basin, urging donors to bolster their financial, logistical and technical support to the affected States.
“This multidimensional crisis is indeed being taken seriously by the States of the region,” said Egypt’s representative, pointing out that Boko Haram’s territory had been significantly reduced. Efforts had been made to address human rights, free the girls abducted by Boko Haram, allow the displaced to return home and provide humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, he voiced concern about the region’s humanitarian crisis — which, in north-east Nigeria, now resembled a “real famine” — and called on all donors to fulfil their pledges in that regard. Indeed, despite the efforts of Joint Task Force, more support from the international community was required to ensure that stability returned to the region.
Senegal’s representative recalled that, in adopting resolution 2349 (2017), the Council had focused on the double humanitarian-security crisis raging around the Lake Chad region. Citing gains against Boko Haram, he warned that the growing number of terrorist attacks — mostly by female suicide bombers — bore witness to the changing tactics of terrorist groups. Responses must be coordinated, he said, adding that all solutions must involve development in the most affected areas with a focus on the roots of the crisis.
China’s representative, echoing concerns over those challenges as well as the related massive displacement of civilians, said his country had responded promptly to its bilateral partners with emergency food assistance and urged others to do the same. Support should be provided to regional countries in efforts to fight terrorism, with a focus on “African solutions to African issues” and full respect for their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said. Member States should take a longer-term perspective by assisting with post-conflict development and working to improve living standards across the region.
Nigeria’s representative, noting that the Boko Haram insurgency had negatively impacted every facet of life in his country, credited the Multinational Joint Task Force for greatly degrading its operations in the region. Pointing out that Nigeria was also making progress against the group, he nevertheless underscored the many humanitarian challenges resulting from the massive displacement, abandoned farmlands and disruption of the educational system. The Government had enacted programmes to support communities in need, including through a presidential committee mandated to help bring normalcy to the region.
Also speaking were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, Uruguay, France, Ukraine, United States, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Japan, Russian Federation and Ethiopia.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 5:05 p.m.
JEFFREY FELTMAN, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, outlining security and political developments, cited “encouraging progress” in the fight against Boko Haram thanks to coordination among countries in the region. “Without question, Boko Haram’s combat capacity has diminished,” he said, pointing to efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force. However, to compensate, Boko Haram had changed tactics, increasing its use of suicide attacks, and the fight was far from over. There had been 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram across four countries in June and July, resulting in 284 civilian fatalities, a significant increase over the number of attacks and fatalities in April and May. Nigeria was among the most affected countries, followed by Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Recalling that the two Special Representatives of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, and for West Africa and the Sahel, had regularly visited the region, he said the Oslo Humanitarian Conference in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region in February, and the Council’s own visit in March, had brought much-needed attention to the situation. The Lake Chad Basin crisis had wreaked havoc on basic infrastructure, assets and Government services. Insecurity had sparked large-scale unemployment and left 1 million children deprived of education. The economic impact had reached nearly $9 billion across north-east Nigeria alone, while poverty, low State legitimacy, human insecurity and climate change had compounded the dire situation. Women and youth were most at risk.
Noting that Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had concluded his first visit to Niger and Nigeria on 12 September, he described the humanitarian needs across the region as “staggering”. Some 10.7 million people required basic humanitarian assistance, and with 8.5 million in need, north-east Nigeria was again enduring the worst of the crisis. Funding had fallen significantly short, with the $1.5 billion regional appeal for 2017 funded at only 40 per cent. The region also now faced its rainy season, when food insecurity was at its worst, and thousands of farmers had already missed four planting seasons due to conflict. Across the region, 7.2 million people were severely food insecure, including 5.2 million in north-east Nigeria, where an estimated 500,000 people were at highest risk of famine.
Turning to human rights, he expressed concern about Boko Haram’s violations, which included killings, the forceful use of children as suicide bombers and sexual and gender-based violence against women and children. “Perpetrators must be brought to justice,” he stressed, nevertheless underscoring his conviction that such violations were among the causes of instability in the Lake Chad Basin and that impunity would continue to fuel the crisis. The United Nations was exploring options for the deployment of national and regional mechanisms for the systematic monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, he said.
Pointing to the lack of a comprehensive approach in addressing Boko Haram defectors — including clear and transparent criteria that were human rights-compliant and in line with the international terrorism framework — he outlined multiple challenges in the areas of security-sector reform and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. “Despite good faith, ad hoc efforts result in thousands of persons being irregularly detained and/or unpredictably processed,” he said, adding that the situation was neither productive, sustainable nor in accordance with the rule of law.
While efforts by the Multinational Joint Task Force remained critical, he warned that the heavy financial investment borne by regional countries came at a high cost: Governments had no choice but to divert much of their national budgets from development to addressing national and regional security. In that context, he encouraged new pledges, as well as the timely disbursement of contributions. The United Nations was committed to adopting a “new way of working” that would address the urgent needs of the affected populations as well as the root causes of crisis in a coordinated and phased manner.
FATIMA SHEHU IMAM, Director, Network of Civil Society Organizations, Borno State, Nigeria, said her group provided assistance to victims of violence stemming from insurgent activities, including those perpetrated by Boko Haram. Speaking via teleconference, she expressed regret in reporting that no improved conditions for women had occurred since she had spoken with the Council in Nigeria earlier in 2017, with Borno State containing increasing numbers of internally displaced persons.
Highlighting a number of grave concerns, she said the situation remained tense and fragile, with recent reports of stability fostering a false sense of security. A lack of food, the collapse of economic activity and increased marginalization of women and girls reflected growing humanitarian needs. A trend that had emerged was trading sex for food, with many females living in internally displaced persons camps unaware of their rights and compelled to give their bodies for sustenance in the name of survival and providing for their families.
Women and girls were also being used by Boko Haram and other insurgent groups, she said. Abductions abounded and people feared travelling. For its part, the Network faced a myriad of challenges in carrying out life-saving work, including persistent instability and inadequate funding. The situation made it risky for local groups to operate in the field, primarily because they lacked the security operations that non-governmental organizations and the United Nations enjoyed. Turning to national concerns, she said Nigeria lacked policies to address those and related concerns. She urged the Council to heed her dire call to assess the situation and bring assistance and aid to the many people in need.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), warning that “Boko Haram is far from a spent force”, noted that there were still weekly suicide attacks with more than 400 people killed in the region since the Council’s visit in March. The group also continued to kidnap girls, and those who returned faced serious stigma, he said, adding that the United Kingdom would lead an initiative to develop a set of global principles to combat such stigma. Urging all partners to recommit to Council resolution 2349 (2017), he said the United Kingdom had scaled up its assistance to $130 million this year and planned to further increase its support to north-east Nigeria. Indeed, insufficient donor funding continued to limit the food aid and development assistance being delivered to the region, he said, adding that regional countries should prioritize the humanitarian response and promptly support the registration of all humanitarian aid groups working on the ground. Expressing regret over last month’s raid of the United Nations “Red Roof” compound by the Nigerian military, he went on to underscore the importance of implementing a regional plan to address the causes of the conflict. Any such plan must fully respect human rights, he added, advocating for more funding to increase the United Nations human rights monitoring presence.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) advocated a holistic and regional approach to the challenges faced by the Lake Chad Basin region. The root causes of instability and insecurity included climate change, economic fragility, marginalization, human rights violations and demographic challenges. Responding to those immediate security challenges must go hand-in-hand with development efforts that sought to address long-term instability by improving people’s daily lives. There was a need for broader partnerships, not least with the African Union and development actors. No sustainable peace could be achieved without effective partnerships spanning the humanitarian, reconstruction and development nexus, he said, stressing that women also had a critical role to play as agents of change. Women’s empowerment could not be overlooked in reconstruction and stabilization efforts, and in that context, Sweden supported the Secretary-General’s call for a strategy to engage women in the prevention of violent extremism.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said solutions to the multidimensional challenges must consider the root causes. For its part, Italy supported a project targeting youth and a national development programme. In all such efforts, human rights must be respected, including in tackling climate change challenges and forced displacement, as must women’s rights, particularly in conflict-related scenarios. A comprehensive approach was needed to address the ongoing crisis, as the terrorist threat and trafficking were spreading through the region, he said, expressing support for the G-5 Sahel force (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) and other similar regional efforts.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said that in adopting resolution 2349 (2017), the Council had focused on the double humanitarian-security crisis raging around the Lake Chad region. Citing gains, he said land had been seized from Boko Haram and kidnapped victims had been rescued. But, recently growing numbers of terrorist attacks, mostly by female suicide bombers, bore witness to the changing tactics of terrorist groups, offering proof that they were in an unfavourable position. Responses must be coordinated, he said, noting that regional cooperation remained necessary for border security to combat organized crime. Further, solutions must involve development in the most affected areas, he said, welcoming the outcome of recent meeting in Oslo on stabilizing the region, with a focus on the roots of the crisis. Critically important were promoting private investment to boost employment and reduce dependence on agriculture, empowering women in economic and political fields and reducing national dependence on oil and other mineral resources.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said a holistic approach was needed to tackle the security, humanitarian, human rights, climate change and economic stagnation challenges in the region. The creation of the G-5 force was crucial in regional counter-terrorism efforts. Expressing concern over crimes perpetrated by security forces in the countries of the region, he said all operations must be conducted in respect of human rights and humanitarian law. The situation of women required close attention, he said, noting with grave concern the use of sexual violence and of female suicide bombers as tools of war for terrorists. National and regional strategies must recognize the rights of victims of sexual violence and all efforts must foster long-term stability.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said the region had seen genuine progress in combating Boko Haram, whose territory had been significantly reduced. “This multidimensional crisis is indeed being taken seriously by the States of the region,” he said, also pointing to important measures taken at the national level. Efforts had been made to address human rights, free girls abducted by Boko Haram, allow those who had been displaced to return home and provide humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, he voiced concern about the region’s humanitarian crisis — which, in north-east Nigeria, now resembled a “real famine” — and called on all donors to fulfil their pledges in that regard. Condemning all human rights violations in the region, including by Boko Haram’s attacks against civilians, he said justice must be restored and impunity could not be allowed to reign in Nigeria. Moreover, despite the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force, more support from the international community was required to ensure that stability returned to the region.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), deploring recent terrorist attacks, including those against children whose increased use as suicide attackers was particularly unacceptable, said the Council bore a responsibility to support countries in the region. France was providing both logistical and intelligence support, as well as bilateral assistance totalling more than €30 million since 2015. Noting that the involvement of United Nations had given hope to the countries of the region, she emphasized that “we must not disappoint them”. She deplored the delay in the European Union’s disbursement of $31 million committed last year to support the Multinational Joint Task Force. It was now critical to improve coordination among donors, she said, adding regional countries must facilitate access for humanitarian actors wherever they were working. France had called for the Council to convene an Arria formula meeting in June on the region’s looming famine, she added.
WU HAITAO (China), echoing concerns that the region was plagued by insecurity and a precarious humanitarian situation, with massive displacement and civilians in great need, called for effective measures to ease the crisis. China had responded promptly to its bilateral partners in the region with emergency food assistance, he said, urging other States to do the same. In addition, support should be provided to regional countries in efforts to fight terrorism, with a focus on “African solutions to African issues” and full respect for their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Calling on Member States to take a longer-term perspective to those issues, he said the international community should assist with post-conflict development and work to improve living standards across the region. In that vein, the United Nations should strengthen its cooperation with regional and subregional organizations and work to align the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
OLEKSIY ILNYTSKYI (Ukraine), commending the Multinational Joint Task Force, urged the international community to step up support to regional countries fighting Boko Haram. The Human Rights Due Diligence Policy framework had been instrumental in efforts to de-radicalize and reintegrate former Boko Haram combatants, he said, stressing the need to rebuild infrastructure and grant unimpeded access to humanitarian actors. The Lake Chad Basin countries must ensure full implementation of their commitments to protect internally displaced persons, he added, expressing concern that some countries had forcefully returned displaced persons. “Refugees can only return to their homes voluntary, being sure that it is safe to leave camps,” he said. It was essential that the region and international community provide urgently needed support for 10.7 million people across the Lake Chad Basin.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said the fight against Boko Haram was far from over, but a military solution alone would not bring peace to the region. Liberated areas must be stabilized and human rights must be respected, with perpetrators held accountable, she said, pressing the Council to take action. Pointing out that the crisis disproportionately affected women and girls, she raised concerns for their vulnerabilities. Stressing that Boko Haram and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) must be destroyed, she said the most successful counter-terrorism campaigns respected human rights. However, she remained troubled about reports of security forces abusing civilians. Expressing regret over delays in opening the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Chad, she supported such efforts. Yet, more must be done, she said, asking Member States to examine ways to stabilize the region.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said fighting Boko Haram meant robustly strengthening support for the G-5 Sahel force and addressing food insecurity, economic growth and security concerns. Related measures must be widely supported, he said, pointing to the importance of a recent tripartite agreement on the return of displaced persons. Terrorist activities, including using children as soldiers, seizing schools and kidnapping girls, must also be eradicated. For its part, the United Nations must deliver as one, coordinating all related activities to ensure the effective provision of required assistance. Supporting the nexus between peace, security and development, he underlined the importance of promoting a regional approach to terrorism.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) raised concerns about the omnipresent threat of Boko Haram, underscoring the need for a united response. The Secretary-General’s report had shown that more than 10 million people in the region required assistance, spotlighting the urgency of the situation. Necessary funds must be gathered and assistance must be provided to those in need, he said, highlighting the special requirements of women and girls, who faced targeted, gender-based violence. Women must be involved in any process aimed at resolving crisis-related problems, while a regional strategy should tackle the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration for former Boko Haram fighters, he said, calling on States to support such a strategy and related approaches.
YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan), describing Boko Haram as an ongoing threat, said much more must be done to implement resolution 2349 (2017) and stabilize the region. Japan was considering additional humanitarian assistance to address food insecurity and malnutrition. United Nations development and peacebuilding expertise should be deployed coherently and effectively across the Lake Chad Basin, while the long-term impact of climate change must also be examined. He emphasized the need to address the root causes of the Boko Haram insurgency, as well as a gender-specific approach for the protection and empowerment of women and girls who had been victimized by, or formerly associated with, that group.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said rising numbers of terrorist attacks on camps, cities and convoys were a growing concern. Stressing that the fight against Boko Haram was a counter-terrorist operation, not a conflict, he said the Russian Federation supported coordinated activities, including with subregional organizations, in Africa. Pirates and criminal organizations had flooded the region with drugs, arms and illegal migration, providing terrorists with material support. Force alone, however, could not achieve a lasting solution and long-term approaches were needed, including choking off financial resources channelled to terrorists and criminals. The Russian Federation championed an appropriate response, and outside initiatives should not overtake, but instead support, African solutions.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), Council President for September, said in his national capacity that only by addressing the root causes would a long-term solution to the crisis be found in the subregion. Welcoming the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the African Union conference in October to address current concerns, he said resource mobilization and support was needed to tackle humanitarian needs. Underlining the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at meeting the affected countries’ needs, he urged donors to fulfil their pledges and expressed hope that the next report in six months would show improved conditions.
MOHAMMED I. HAIDARA (Nigeria) said the Boko Haram insurgency had negatively impacted every facet of life in his country. He credited the Multinational Joint Task Force for greatly degrading the group’s operations, adding that his Government continued to witness the emergence of rescued survivors and victims. Nigeria was also making significant progress in the fight against Boko Haram, he said, noting the military’s successful take-over of the Sambisa Forest and the instrumental support of neighbouring countries in doing so.
Despite such progress, he said, humanitarian challenges resulting from the massive displacement, abandoned farmlands and disruption of the educational system remained. The Government had enacted programmes to support communities in need, especially those comprised of victims and the displaced. A Presidential Committee on the North-East Interventions had been mandated to coordinate and provide direction for various initiatives to help bring normalcy to the region, he said, which involved the private sector and civil society. Nigeria had also engaged respected community and religious leaders to discourage vulnerable youth from being radicalized.