The UN High Commission for Human Rights says it is ready to assist President Muhammadu Buhari to overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations in the operations against Boko Haram.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al Hussein, made the pledge on Wednesday at the 29th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In a copy of the speech, made available to UN correspondents in New York, Hussein said he was heartened by Buhari’s pledge in his inaugural speech that his administration would “overhaul the rules of engagement to avoid human rights violations in the operations.
“This is a strong and positive signal and we stand ready to assist. It is also encouraging to see governmental control being re-established over key areas of Nigeria.
Hussein said that the authorities would be able to address the root causes of the crisis, including those discussed during the special session of the Council in April.
He listed the root causes to include acute underlying poverty, socio-economic deprivation and discrimination, and allegations of poor governance.
He said as the Federal Government and regional forces continue to gain territory, he believed it was time to give proper consideration to profound policy response grounded on the need for accountability and reconciliation, with measures to promote socio-economic rights and improve governance.
Hussein said trust must be rebuilt and this included trust in the authorities and between communities.
The authorities, he said, must also assist women and girl survivors of Boko Haram, including encouraging their reintegration into their community, establishing accountability for sexual violence, and ensuring greater respect for women’s rights.
“We will assist the authorities of the region in every possible way to enable their people to recover full enjoyment of their human rights.
“Member States, donors and the UN Country Teams can and should begin focusing programmes to meet the needs of the people of the sub-region, to repair the damage caused by Boko Haram, and to ensure that such a movement can never again take hold,” he said.He told the council that interviews by his members of staff with former captives and survivors of Boko Haram attacks in northeast Nigeria, indicated a pattern of vicious and indiscriminate attacks stretching back to months, and even years.
Hussein said the attacks included massacres and the burning down of entire villages; attacks on protected sites such as places of worship and schools; slaughter of people taking refuge in such sites; torture; cruel and degrading treatment following sentences in so-called “courts”.
Others are abduction on a massive scale, including of children; forced displacement; child recruitment; and extremely severe and widespread violations of the rights of women and girls, including sexual slavery, sexual violence, forced so-called “marriages”, and forced pregnancy in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law principles.
He said survivors in Nigeria have given his workers distressing witness accounts of gruesome mass killings of men and boys whom Boko Haram grouped together and gunned down or hacked to death with sadistic cruelty, before the female inhabitants of villages were abducted.
Over the past year, he said, pitiless attacks on towns and villages in Cameroon, Niger and Chad have also generated terrible suffering.
“People have been burnt to death in their own homes, beheaded, enslaved, raped, tortured, and forcibly recruited.
“My members of staff have interviewed victims and witnesses of attacks on the Niger borders of Lake Chad in April, which triggered the forced displacement of around 40,000 civilians to the cities of Bosso and Diffa, under the orders of the Niger authorities.
“As in Nigeria, Boko Haram fighters killed civilians, burnt villages and abducted women and children.
“Another Boko Haram raid in Niger two weeks ago, in which at least 38 civilians were killed in villages in the region of Diffa and the June 15 bombings that targeted police forces in the Chadian capital, are bloody reminders that Boko Haram retains its capacity to cause significant harm,’ he said..
Moreover, he said that in most of the towns and villages that have recently been recaptured by the regional forces, Boko Haram fighters reportedly looted and burnt down houses, shops and schools; destroyed hospitals and health centres and smashed water points and water systems.
In several cases, he added, they methodically destroyed bridges and other infrastructure vital to people’s lives and livelihoods.
Hussein said coupled with the massive displacement generated by this movement, this destruction has had a major impact on the economy of the region; as there were now severe food shortages, in a region that had traditionally produced crops for trade across the Sahel.
This economic impact, he said, had been exacerbated by security measures taken by regional authorities that limit circulation, including closure of borders, banning of motorbikes, imposed curfews, seizure of truckloads of goods on the grounds that they may be intended for Boko Haram, and restrictions on access to farmland and fishing areas.
Similarly, he said, the forced displacement of 40,000 inhabitants in the Lake Chad area of Niger, following Boko Haram attacks on several villages, has generated great hardship.
He told the council that these measures had sharply increased the risk of poverty for the population of the entire region.
Hussein said they had also generated understandable ill-feeling among the affected communities, and may ultimately contribute to support for Boko Haram.
He added that it is vital that in the conduct of their operations, the regional security forces refrain from adding to the suffering of the people.
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