Header image for news printout

End of Mission Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Mr. Chaloka Beyani, on his visit to Nigeria, 23 to 26 August 2016

Introductory comments

In my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons, I carried out a visit to the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 23rd to 26th August 2016 at the invitation of the Government. The objective of my visit was to consult with the Government and other key national and international stakeholders on the main issues concerning internal displacement, consider ongoing challenges that Nigeria faces with regard to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and assistance to them, as well as to identify humanitarian, human rights and protection concerns facing IDPs.

I began my four day visit in the Federal Capital, Abuja, where I held meetings with senior Government officials with responsibility for internal displacement responses, United Nations agencies and bodies and numerous other national and international stakeholders. I also visited Maiduguri in  Borno State, which is recognized as being at the epicentre of the insurgency by Boko Haram since 2009 that has caused conflict and mass displacement. During my visit to Maiduguru, I consulted with Borno State officials, UN Agencies and other members of the humanitarian community. I visited several camps for IDPs in the vicinity of Maiduguri to consult directly with IDPs and those providing assistance and support to them, and to learn about their circumstances, needs, protection concerns and expectations. I regret that I was unable to visit several camps in more remote and newly liberated areas outside Maiduguri in which conditions are of particular concern, due to insecurity and time limitations.

The findings presented here represent only my preliminary observations and do not reflect the full range of issues that were brought to my attention, nor do they reflect all of the initiatives on the part of the Government of Nigeria. Over the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the information I have received in order to develop my full country visit report which will be presented to the Government of Nigeria and the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 35th Session in June 2017.

General observations

Although I examined all aspects of internal displacement, my visit focused on the situation in the north-east region of Nigeria that has been deeply affected by the insurgency and the capture of large areas of territory by Boko Haram terrorists since 2009. In recent months offensives by Government security forces have regained much of the territory previously under the control of Boko Haram. Yet the civilian population caught up in the fighting have borne the brunt of the conflict. Thousands have been killed and over 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes within the region and to other parts of the country.  186,000 have taken refuge in neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. 106,000 Nigerians have returned to Nigeria, some of them under conditions that did not meet international standards.  This situation constitutes a major national emergency, the scale of which is only just beginning to be revealed as people flee or are forced to leave newly liberated areas by security forces.

The situation of many of the IDPs in the North-east is grave and should no longer be downplayed. It is not too late to save many lives. The Government and the international community must now act to ensure that urgent food, shelter, medical care, water and sanitation and other essential services reach IDPs without delay. IDPs, the vast majority of whom are women and children, continue to face a range of threats to their physical safety in some areas. Many are traumatized by the violence that prompted them to flee and are afraid to return. Civilians, particularly those in newly accessible areas, require urgent protection services including psychosocial support. Those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by conflict and flooding have little to return to. While military operations have regained much territory, Boko Haram remains a menacing and dangerous presence in the region with the potential to terrorize and displace many thousands more.

The gravity and extent of this crisis is only now being revealed as civilians leave newly liberated areas with the symptoms of advanced malnutrition, particularly affecting children, and the trauma of having been caught in a conflict which has cost them their homes, their livelihoods and their family members.

Humanitarian and protection concerns

I was disturbed to learn of the dire situation in terms of food insecurity in the IDP camps and in the general population and host communities in some regions of the north-east. People are reportedly dying of starvation daily in some IDP camps that are difficult to reach by humanitarian actors. IDPs in over 20 camps around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, are left hungry due to shortages of supplies with many surviving on only one basic meal per day. Many of those arriving in IDP camps were already reported to be severely malnourished. Years of insurgency in the region have devastated crop production and harvests. In addition a military strategy to block supplies of food to regions held by Boko Haram has had a devastating impact on local civilian populations. Allegations have also been made of officials diverting and selling food and other items including medicines, toiletries and beddings.

A gross underestimation of the crisis means that current supplies will last only days and are far outstripped by the huge needs both now and in the weeks or months ahead. The UN says that some 250,000 children may be suffering from severe and possibly life threatening malnutrition in the region. I received reports that children are dying daily right now from starvation and disease. Even in relatively well serviced IDP camps in the vicinity of Maiduguri where food is more plentiful, demonstrations were held during the period of my visit to complain about the poor provision of food. Improving access for humanitarian agencies is essential to delivering much needed assistance to IDPs. Yet the security situation remains perilous in some regions and humanitarian access is severely constrained. The World Food Programme only received permission to operate in the region in March 2016.

In addition access to medical care is severely limited and medical facilities must be urgently improved with the greatest demand being in inaccessible and newly liberated areas.  Many IDPs, and particularly women and children require urgent treatment for malnutrition, while many are deeply traumatized by the violence that prompted them to flee or by the violations and abuse that they have suffered since. They require urgent psycho-social support that is largely absent. Cramped and unhygienic conditions may lead to communicable diseases and the healthcare needs of many most vulnerable persons including pregnant women and infants are not being met to the extent required.  

The full spectrum of protection concerns exist in the north-east region. While a vital series of protection assessment have been carried out, a much deeper understanding of the protection issues faced by IDPs and affected populations is needed. It is important that protection actors continue to strengthen their mechanism for systematic and effective protection monitoring with a view to supporting robust responses. Of particular concern are the protection challenges faced by some of the most vulnerable who include women and girls, unaccompanied children, older persons, persons with disabilities, and those who have been deeply traumatised by violence, brutality, starvation and displacement. The challenges facing children are particularly acute and most remain out of education. Schools are frequently used as IDP shelters which also impacts on the education access of those in host communities.  

Camps should offer protection for those in need yet I am alarmed to learn that many are in fact the settings for violence, exploitation and abuse of the most vulnerable. The situation of women and girls in IDP camps and conflict affected areas is of particular concern and requires urgent action. I was informed of allegations of rape, sexual and gender based violence, widespread incidence of survival sex and organised and survival prostitution. Women and girls reportedly face coercion into providing sexual favours in order to obtain their food rations for themselves and their children or to move outside of camps. As a consequence a high number of pregnancies, including among young girls and early marriages is evident. While the Government acknowledged this situation to some extent, I found a tendency to downplay the problem of sexual violence and abuse. I am concerned that this constitutes a hidden crisis of abuse with fear, stigma and cultural factors as well as impunity for perpetrators leading to under-reporting of abuse to the relevant authorities.

A group of three of my fellow Special Rapporteurs with mandates relating to children, slavery and health, visited Nigeria in January 20161 and found evidence of sexual abuse and other major protection concerns relating to children, women and girls in the north-east region. More than six months later I have seen little indication that the situation has improved. Measures can and must be taken immediately to protect vulnerable women and girls. These include ensuring that women have key roles in food distribution and camp management, improving human rights and humanitarian training of security forces and civilian authorities.

In such displacement environments where male family members are now largely absent, the social fabric of society that normally protects women from abuse has broken down almost completely leaving women and girls highly vulnerable. A culture of impunity for sexual abuse must come to an end and perpetrators must be brought to justice. I was informed that perpetrators allegedly include some members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) that has been given a role in camp management and administration. Such violations are particularly prevalent in IDP camps in newly liberated areas where access by humanitarian actors remains extremely difficult due to continuing security concerns.

Camps must quickly come under trained civilian management to prevent abuse. It is important that community-based protection and camp management systems are put in place. There must be a transition from military to civilian administration of IDP camps as soon as possible, while security forces should provide guarantees of security in areas that remain at risk from Boko Haram or other security threats. While in some cases the CJTF members exercise significant authority and provide a variety of functions in IDP camps, I am concerned about the nature, status and training of some of those individuals. Some described elements of the CJTF as ‘militias’ or ‘paramilitaries’ with affiliation to the military structures but lacking the discipline and training of regular security forces. As such they do not constitute a truly civilian administration and I urge that measures be put in place to ensure appropriate civilian authority is put in place. Any abuses must be reported and perpetrators punished according to the law. 

A disturbing demographic picture was revealed to me by my visits to IDP camps and through my consultations with national authorities and humanitarian actors. There is an obvious absence of men, particularly young men, in the IDP camps and many are reported to have disappeared. A number of factors may account for such an absence of men – all of them concerning. While reports suggest that some may have been recruited by or forced to join Boko Haram, unverified allegations indicate that many may have been killed by the militants. There is a need for urgent investigation of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. What is clear is that answers must be found not only to the question of over 200 missing Chibok girls, but to the whereabouts of thousands of young men in north-east Nigeria. A project should be begun, including through outreach within IDP populations, to record all cases of missing persons in order to open cases with a view to identifying the whereabouts of family members.  

In some areas young men are taken in custody suspected of association with Boko Haram, resulting in disruption of family unity. I was informed of the arrest and detention, sometimes for exceptionally long periods, of suspected Boko Haram members including from in or around IDP camps, as well as limitations of the freedom of movement of IDPs and civilians due to such suspicions and security concerns. Those leaving newly liberated areas are screened by security forces. Despite the fact that the vast majority of IDPs are innocent civilians, a perception is emerging that IDPs pose a potential security threat. Some men may have fled in fear for their lives either to other regions of Nigeria or across international borders due to the real threat posed to them by Boko Haram or their fear of detention by the security forces. Any detention must be justified and according to the law. Equally freedom of movement out of IDP camps should not be unduly restricted. It must be recalled the IDP camps are not detention centres and the right to freedom of movement of IDPs must be respected to the full extent possible, with proportionate security measures.

I consulted senior military commanders in charge of the military operations in the region. They informed me that legitimate security concerns lead them to continue a process of screening and information gathering within and around IDP camps and locations with the ultimate objective of protecting civilian communities, including IDPs. They acknowledged the detention of some individuals on security grounds but emphasised the compliance of the security forces with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. I was pleased to learn that the military has human rights advisors within its ranks and conducts human rights trainings. Nevertheless, I urge all security services to intensify their efforts to ensure compliance in all respects with both domestic and international law and standards throughout the services and across all ranks and grades. I also encourage the security forces to benefit from good practices in relation to the treatment of IDPs including training of military personnel and the deployment of female personnel where appropriate to engage the largely female IDP population.

Less than 10 per cent of internally displaced persons are in formal or informal camp settings with the vast majority living with and sharing the resources of host communities. The majority of those outside camps are receiving little if any humanitarian assistance and their situation must be better understood and addressed as well as the needs and problems of host communities supporting them. This will require data, resources and expertise that are currently absent and must be quickly put in place. Those outside of camps must not be left to fend for themselves as is currently the case for many including in Maiduguri. They must be identified, documented, and provided with relevant information and assistance to the fullest extent possible. The burden on host communities and dwindling resources of IDPs may result in many being forced to move once more to IDP camps or informal settlements. I call on the Government and its humanitarian partners to develop an out of camp strategy to cater for the needs of these internally displaced persons.

Humanitarian responses

The efforts of the Government of Nigeria and its regional State counterparts must be acknowledged. Numerous Government institutions have vital roles in addressing the needs and protection of IDPs and are responding to the extent of their limited resources and capacity. Key among these are the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and its State counterpart the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) in Borno which have been at the forefront of the crisis response and have played a vital role to-date including in the delivery of food and non-food items. In addition, bodies including the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs, the National Human Rights Commission and the Presidential Initiative for the Northeast, among others have made important contributions to responses alongside and in collaboration with their national and international partners. The military also continues to play a role in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and service delivery. Numerous stakeholders whom I consulted stated that the role and capacity of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs should be greatly enhanced.  

Nevertheless, efforts by national and State governments to address the needs of IDPs have come late and been inconsistent at best and must be urgently strengthened. Essential elements of a truly effective national response are absent, notably a legislative and policy framework on internal displacement, consistent with international standards including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention), that are urgently required to help guide and inform responses in the short, medium and long-terms. It was frequently stated to me that Nigeria lacks experience in dealing with a humanitarian and displacement crisis on the current scale. Indeed it was slow to respond and to call for assistance from the international community. It is essential that the Government now step-up its response and that the international community equally dedicates urgent additional resources and attention to this evolving crisis. The time to act is now. There is no doubt that this is a neglected crisis which demands much greater attention and that Nigeria lacks the capacity and resources to tackle it alone.

The situation of over 2.5 million IDPs displays all the hallmarks of the highest category crises. Indeed in recent days some UN agencies, including UNHCR have internally categorized the crisis in north-east Nigeria as the highest possible L3 level crisis, which entails a higher level of funding and resources be directed towards the situation. This is an important acknowledgment of the gravity of the situation and many are urging a general L3 designation to be applied. Having consulted widely and witnessed some of the challenges facing the Government and the humanitarian community, I endorse that call for the situation in the north-east to be given the highest criticality rating. Despite military successes, the humanitarian situation is likely to worsen before it improves. Predictions of severe flooding have also been made in coming months and may affect the north-east region and conflict and displacement affected areas, adding a disaster element to the existing humanitarian crisis. In this respect it is prudent to issue an early warning to the international community.

The challenges facing the Government and the humanitarian community are many and they include a highly dangerous security environment in which to operate in which road travel is frequently unsafe and they are at considerable risk of attack. The dangers that they face were made evident to me by United Nations staff members who vividly described a coordinated and targeted ambush attempt on their convoy by Boko Haram in July despite having a military escort, which they were extremely lucky to survive. Humanitarian actors and the United Nations are now clearly a target for Boko Haram and they must be given all possible protection as they fearlessly carry out their functions.

Progress towards achieving durable solutions

While military operations have liberated a number of areas in north-eastern Nigeria from Boko Haram control, conditions in many areas are still precarious and not yet conducive for the return of IDPs and refugees, due to continuing insecurity, the destruction of infrastructure and homes, and the absence of basic services which pose acute humanitarian and protection risks for the affected populations. While some IDPs have returned back to their areas of origin particularly in Adamawa State, many areas of return are either unsafe or lack essential services and return must only take place voluntarily and in conditions of security, dignity and with appropriate support in place.  

Little or no attention has been given to ensuring durable solutions for IDPs in the region. While saving lives must remain the highest priority at the present time, I urge the government and the international community to ensure that they do not neglect the need to integrate durable solutions and transitional steps towards them at the earliest phase. I was informed that the Early Recovery Sector has zero per cent funding currently in place from the international community which is indicative of the neglect of this important sector and hampers efforts to begin to build resilience, re-establish livelihoods and initiate recovery programmes.

One of Boko Haram’s characteristic tactics is the complete destruction of areas and villages that they occupied, as has been seen in numerous locations including the town of Bama. Even where return becomes possible, many people do not have a home to go back to. Massive investment in rebuilding infrastructure and homes will be required by development actors before the conditions are in place for IDPs to return to their homes. In some locations return is hampered by unexploded ordnance and booby-traps intended to kill or maim. Indeed, for some, alternative durable solution options of local integration or resettlement elsewhere with the necessary support in place, may be the most viable and preferred options. In this respect the views and wishes of IDPs must be fully taken into account and respected including their right to choose durable solutions that are appropriate for them. It is essential that development partners be engaged at the earliest phase to integrate development approaches into the humanitarian phase as soon as possible. 

The root-causes of the conflict and displacement crisis in the northeast of Nigeria are more complex than they may at first appear. They include economic neglect and social inequality and high levels of poverty and deprivation in the region which have been factors that have given rise to radicalization and insurgency. Combatting the underlying structural issues that have created the situation will be essential to future stability and to preventing such a situation occurring again once Boko Haram has been defeated. Development of the northeast region and durable solutions for IDPs will be critical to this objective and should begin at the earliest possible opportunity.    

The government and its humanitarian partners such as UNHCR has started developing a tripartite arrangement to facilitate the return of Nigerian refugees. The Regional Dialogue on Protection held in June 2016 resulted in actionable recommendations. I call on all parties involved to expedite the process of implementation.

General recommendations

Existing laws are not sufficient to address the emergency situation and challenges facing IDPs in the north-east of the country. Essential elements of a truly effective national response are absent, notably a legislative and policy framework on internal displacement, consistent with international standards including the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, that are urgently required to help guide and inform responses in the short, medium and long-terms. The Government of Nigeria was an active participant in helping to shape the 2009 Kampala Convention and ratified the Convention in 2012. Among the requirements on States parties to the Convention is to domesticate its provisions into national law. A draft Bill to domesticate the Kampala Convention is before the Parliament but yet to be passed into law. Equally, a draft policy on IDPs has been in development for over 10 years and should now be adopted without further delay.

Such a legal and policy framework to address internal displacement, in full conformity with international standards and the Kampala Convention, would establish the rights of IDPs and the obligations of national authorities in domestic law, create much needed clarity regarding roles and responsibilities of different bodies and agencies and ensure coordination across them, as well as establishing and guaranteeing budgets for humanitarian and development initiatives. I cannot stress strongly enough the need for such a legal and policy framework to be adopted.

In view of the extent of the crisis, the Federal Government should give due consideration to strengthening its institutional framework for addressing internal displacement, including by considering the establishment of a Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs or similar high-level dedicated institution with a mandate to comprehensively address the situation of internally displaced persons and other humanitarian needs. Greater coordination and clarity regarding roles is required across Government institutions and in regard to their partnerships with both national and international partners.  

Accurate data collection is vital and must be quickly improved. While ongoing Displacement Tracking Matrix, Vulnerability Screening and protection assessments are commendable, the need for accurate and comprehensive disaggregated data remains acute. Without a consistent and reliable system of data collection on IDPs, data varies from source to source. There is an urgent need to conduct detailed profiling and needs assessments of the most vulnerable in the IDP population both within and outside camps, in order to identify the protection needs of those including unaccompanied children, older persons, survivors of violence and abduction and persons with disabilities. Some positive steps have been taken in regard to data gathering and analysis, however much more is required, particularly in newly liberated areas where the needs are greatest.  The Geneva based Joint Inter-Agency Profoling Service (JIPs) could provide expertise in this regard.

The international community has a vital role to play in addressing and resolving the humanitarian crisis in north-east Nigeria. While Nigeria is considered to be a middle income country due to its oil and gas revenues, it is currently undergoing a period of intense economic challenges due to the fall in price of oil. Nevertheless, the extent of the crisis requires it to do better in terms of providing adequate national financial resources to meet the massive needs in the north-east region. As I have recommended in other country situations, a positive step would be for the Government to guarantee a percentage of national oil revenues for use in addressing the humanitarian crises, essential reconstruction and development, and supporting IDPs until durable solutions are found.

At this critical time I also call upon the international and donor community to provide massive additional support to Nigeria as it confronts an insurgency and a humanitarian and displacement crisis which has regional and potentially global implications and consequences. The humanitarian response is currently only funded to some 36 per cent of 2016 estimated needs. The United Nations and other humanitarian and development partners are hampered in their essential efforts by the significant shortfall in funding across key sectors. Scaling up the response is essential to save lives in the short term, however they must also be provided for the longer term challenges of securing durable solutions beyond the emergency phase.     

Although the short duration of my visit permitted me to consider in detail only internal displacement in the north-east of Nigeria and to travel to that region, I am very well aware of other displacement situations in Nigeria that require ongoing and renewed attention. These include displacement as a result of communal tensions and violence, clashes between traditional pastoralist communities and settled farmers, and displacement as a result of environmental degradation due to the oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta region. These issues have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in different regions of the country, sometimes for periods of years. I urge the government to continue working to resolve all situations of internal displacement and maintain support for internally displaced persons until durable solutions are achieved for them. 

I take this opportunity to thank the Government of Nigeria for its invitation to visit and its cooperation with my mandate which I hope constitutes the beginning of a constructive and fruitful engagement ahead. I also thank the representatives of the Borno State Government. I also express my gratitude to the United Nations Country Team and in particular the UN High Commission for Refugees and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for their support in ensuring the success of my visit. I also thank all other institutions and individuals whom I met and who provided valuable information to me.

1. The experts: Ms. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur on sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution; Ms. Urmila  Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur on  contemporary forms of slavery; and Dainius Pūras, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health – visited Nigeri in January 2016. Check the Special Rapporteurs’ full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16983&LangID=E