United States President Barack Obama should raise critical human rights challenges in Nigeria with President Muhammadu Buhari, who will arrive in Washington, DC, on July 20, 2015, for a high-level visit, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Obama that was released today.
Obama should encourage Buhari to keep his commitment to ensure that government security forces respect human rights and to address the endemic corruption that has deprived many Nigerians of their basic rights.
“Buhari’s visit to Washington is an important moment to re-evaluate the US-Nigeria relationship, but any closer ties and assistance should be approached with caution,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “If the US is discussing further financial or technical support for Nigeria’s security forces it should insist on clear benchmarks on how they will ensure respect for human rights.”
Buhari’s visit to the US, his first since he was elected in March, will focus on attempting to strengthen bilateral cooperation against terrorism in Nigeria, specifically against the militant Islamic rebel group Boko Haram. The visit will also seek to improve economic and trade relations.
The conflict in the northeast between Boko Haram and Nigeria’s security forces has become increasingly deadly and is one of the critical challenges facing Nigeria’s new administration. An estimated 8,000 civilians are believed to have been killed since 2010, 400 of them since Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015. Nearly one million people have been displaced. There is abundant evidence that Boko Haram forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The group has targeted civilians in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad, abducted hundreds of women and girls, forcibly conscripted young men and boys, and destroyed villages, towns, and schools.
In responding to Boko Haram, Nigerian government security forces have been implicated in grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including incommunicado detention, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. The Nigerian police are also credibly implicated in several highly publicized extrajudicial killings of Boko Haram members or suspects. Almost no one has been held to account for human rights crimes. On July 13, Buhari replaced the national security adviser, the chief of defense staff, and the military service chiefs.
Obama should press Buhari to immediately suspend any member of Nigeria’s security forces, including senior officers, for whom there is credible evidence of involvement in serious human rights abuses, and hold them to account in fair trials, Human Rights Watch said.