Boko Haram Still Threatens Civilians in Lake Chad Basin, Officials Warns Security Council, Urging United Front to Repair Material, Social Damage

Despite the gains made against Boko Haram by countries in the Lake Chad Basin region, the extremist group remained a threat, carrying out asymmetric attacks against civilians, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, stressing that only a concerted international approach would help repair the material and social damage inflicted on communities.

Briefing the 15-member Council this afternoon, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the region continued to suffer from the combined effects of violent extremism and a serious humanitarian crisis, as well as human rights abuses and violations by terrorist elements.  Despite the counter-insurgency operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force, Boko Haram maintained the ability to carry out attacks and perpetrate violence against civilians through kidnappings, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and ambushes on towns and villages.

“A military approach will not bring an end to Boko Haram,” he said, stressing that affected countries must simultaneously tackle the humanitarian consequences and root causes of the group’s emergence.  Concerned authorities should bolster support to survivors, bring perpetrators to justice and provide targeted protection services in camps and host communities.  Moreover, military operations should be followed with steps to bring about stability, restore State authority and address the social, economic and political grievances of marginalized communities plagued by entrenched poverty and social inequality.

He said some of the Chibok girls kidnapped in 2014 from Nigeria had been freed thanks to negotiations facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Government of Switzerland.  Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, continued his engagement with the Nigerian authorities and international partners to ensure the release of remaining abductees.

For its part, the United Nations would continue to provide strategic counter-terrorism technical assistance and training, he said.  In addition, high-level officials of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had met in December to consider approaches to prosecute and rehabilitate people associated with Boko Haram.  Their consultations underscored the need for a comprehensive legal framework and a gender-sensitive rehabilitation and reintegration strategy.

Also briefing the Council, Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the humanitarian crisis across the Lake Chad Basin, comprising north-eastern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, was deepening.  While Boko Haram had lost much of the territory it once controlled, raids and suicide bombings targeting civilians continued to cause widespread death and destruction, fear, psychological and physical trauma.

Drawing attention to the recent statistics, he said that 10.7 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, and some 2.4 million people were currently displaced.  What had started as a protection crisis had also become a major food and nutrition crisis, he stressed, noting that the number of severely food insecure people across the Lake Chad Basin had increased from 3 million one year ago to 7.1 million today.  Although aid was entering the region, forecasts predicted that the situation could worsen further.

Despite those worrying trends, there was hope that 2017 would prove to be a turning point for the people affected by the crisis.  “Now is the time to act decisively to expand humanitarian assistance and protection as well as basic services, and thus lay the groundwork for early recovery and reconstruction,” he said, emphasizing that the nature of the conflict was changing and more and more areas were coming under Government control. 

The United Nations was closely cooperating with the Governments of affected countries and a September 2016 high-level event with the Presidents of Chad, Niger and Nigeria had resulted in new humanitarian aid pledges of over $163 million, he said.  Still, Governments throughout the region were grappling with fiscal constraints due to economic recession and costly military operations waged against Boko Haram.  “We can only do less than half of what we know is needed,” he said, calling upon donors to dig even deeper.

Joining him, Fatima Yerima Askira of the Borno Women Development Initiative, and Youth Programmes Coordinator at Search for Common Ground Nigeria, expressed hope that donor agencies and Council members would heed the humanitarian appeal.  She called on the Council to take action to prevent violent conflict in the region and stressed that citizens in the affected countries and the international community needed not only to fight Boko Haram, but also to combat interreligious and inter-ethnic tensions. 

In the ensuing debate, Council members expressed concern that Boko Haram still maintained a real capacity to carry out targeted and deadly attacks and that the crisis brought about by the group was still threatening lives.  To fight that phenomenon, it was essential to address the underlying causes of the conflict, notably poor governance, underdevelopment and the impact of climate change, and to increase humanitarian, military and logistical support.  Equally vital was that Lake Chad Basin countries show ownership of development issues.

Delegates also underscored the need for greater cooperation among the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, with some speakers welcoming the latter’s decision to set up an anti-terrorism fund.  The proposed Council mission to the region, they stressed, would send a strong signal and provide useful discussions. 

Nigeria’s representative said that while the insurgency had tested the country’s will, it had failed to break the resilience of its people.  Recently, the Government had successfully driven out Boko Haram militants from the Sambisa Forest and embarked on programmes to restore livelihoods in communities, revamp security operations and advance rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction efforts.  It was working hard to ensure the release of all Nigerians held captive by Boko Haram, including the Chibok schoolgirls who remained in the country’s “national consciousness”.  The international community must do its part, he stressed, calling on it to continue to help fulfil the country’s humanitarian needs and address the root causes of terrorism.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Egypt, Japan, Uruguay, Italy, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Bolivia and Sweden.

The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 5:15 p.m.

Briefings

TAYÉ-BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that the Lake Chad Basin continued to suffer from the combined effects of violent extremism and a serious humanitarian crisis, as well as human rights abuses and violations by terrorist elements.  Boko Haram continued to perpetrate violence against civilians in the region with varied frequency and intensity through kidnappings, suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and ambushes on towns and villages.  Since October 2016, that group had shifted most of its assaults to military positions.

While it was unclear whether the military was the intended target, the increase in clashes with the military seemed to be the result of reaction to the counter-insurgency operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force, as well as a shift in tactics following the split in Boko Haram’s leadership, he said.  Despite the commendable military effort by the region against the group, Boko Haram retained the capacity to carry out attacks, including the one on 3 January on a military checkpoint in Baroua in the Diffa region of south-eastern Niger.

It had been a long time since the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in Nigeria, he continued, noting that the release of some had been a result of negotiations facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Government of Switzerland.  For his part, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, continued his engagement with the Nigerian authorities and international partners to ensure the release of remaining abductees.

He went on to emphasize that countries in the region continued to face a serious humanitarian crisis.  The number of people in need of assistance had continued to increase and proved the seriousness of the situation.  Citing an example, he said that the ongoing violence had destroyed lives, livestock, foodstuffs and economic development.  Indeed, the economic impact of the crisis was substantial, and was estimated at about $9 billion in north-eastern Nigeria alone.

Boko Haram’s destructive activities were taking place in areas of entrenched poverty, marginalization and high levels of income and social inequality, which was caused by an absence of State authority and a severe financial crisis, he said.  The United Nations response must address the immediate violence as well as humanitarian needs while simultaneously tackling the root causes of violent extremism and radicalization.  Only a combined approach of the international community would help repair the material and social damage inflicted on communities.  “The overall goal of the response to the Lake Chad Bain crisis should seek to achieve durable solutions, recovery and sustainable development,” he stressed.

Grave human rights violations and abuses had accompanied Boko Haram attacks and the counter-terrorism responses, he said, adding that women and girls remained subjected to sexual violence.  Acknowledging that various measures had been taken by the Government of Nigeria to address such incidents, he urged concerned authorities to strengthen their responses, including by providing assistance to survivors, bringing all perpetrators to justice and providing targeted protection services in camps and host communities.  Given that there had been encouraging reports of surrender of former Boko Haram fighters in Chad and Niger, he encouraged concerned countries to examine their rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for ex-Boko Haram fighters and their families.

For its part, the United Nations would continue to provide strategic counterterrorism technical assistance and trainings, he said.  In addition, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had held a high-level meeting in December 2016 to consider approaches to prosecuting, rehabilitating and reintegrating persons associated with that group.  The consultations had underlined the need to develop a comprehensive legal framework and a gender-sensitive rehabilitation and reintegration strategy.

“A military approach will not bring an end to Boko Haram,” he said, adding that affected countries must simultaneously tackle the humanitarian consequences as well as the root causes that led to the emergence of the group.  Military operations should be followed with stabilization measures, the restoration of State authority and addressing the social, economic and political grievances of marginalized communities.  As four countries of the Lake Chad Basin region were equally affected by the Boko Haram scourge, they needed the Security Council’s and the wider international community’s support to succeed in their efforts to bring about stability and build the resilience of affected communities.

STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, declared:  “The humanitarian crisis across north-eastern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, triggered by the horrendous, violent and inhumane campaign of Boko Haram, is deepening.”  While the group had lost much of the territory it once controlled, raids and suicide bombings targeting civilians continued to cause widespread death and destruction, fear, psychological and physical trauma, prevent people from accessing essential services and wipe out livelihoods and vital infrastructure.

There were 10.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, he said, up from 9 million in July 2016.  Some 2.4 million people were currently displaced, over 1.5 million of whom were children.  The protection needs he had highlighted before the Council last July remained dire, with civilians facing violations for humanitarian and human rights law, including death, injuries, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary detention, disappearances, forced displacement and forced recruitment.  In north-east Nigeria alone, over 7,000 women and girls had been subjected to Boko Haram-related sexual violence.  While the United Nations and its partners were providing care and support to victims, other protection activities needed to be scaled up.

What had started as a protection crisis had also become a major food and nutrition crisis, he said, noting that the number of severely food insecure people across the Lake Chad Basin had increased from 3 million one year ago to 7.1 million today.  Although aid was entering the region, forecasts predicted that the situation could worsen further.

However, he continued, despite those worrying trends, there was hope that 2017 would prove to be a turning point for the people affected by the crisis.  “Now is the time to act decisively to expand humanitarian assistance and protection as well as basic services, and thus lay the groundwork for early recovery and reconstruction,” he said, pointing out that the nature of the conflict was changing and more and more areas were coming under Government control. 

He noted that the United Nations and its local partners were currently reaching some 2.1 million people with food assistance, over 4 million with emergency primary health care and over 1.7 million with water and sanitation, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was providing significant support to millions of children.  In that vein, he recalled that since July 2015 he had released over $91 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to support humanitarian needs in the Lake Chad Basin. 

Describing the Organization’s close cooperation with the Governments of the affected countries, which were taking a rapidly increasing lead in the humanitarian response, he nevertheless noted that several Governments throughout the region were experiencing fiscal constraints due to economic recession and costly military operations waged against Boko Haram.  Recalling that a September 2016 high-level event with the Presidents of Chad, Niger and Nigeria had resulted in new pledges of over $163 million, he nevertheless stressed that the amount was not enough.

He went on to note that the crisis across the Lake Chad Basin included many of the elements — including poverty, unemployment and the absence of prospects and opportunities for youth — conducive to both violent extremism and protracted humanitarian need.  Underscoring the need for continued action and attention from the Council and the international community, he stressed that “now is the time to stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger”. 

Indeed, the crisis was urgent, and without action and political engagement, as well as sustained humanitarian and development assistance, it would become even more protracted.  The appeal for the region for 2016 was only 49 per cent funded, he said, emphasizing that “we can only do less than half of what we know is needed.”  Donors must dig even deeper.  Meanwhile, the Council should support national and regional action, the conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin to be organized in Norway on 24 February, development strategies and non-governmental organizations in the region.

FATIMA YERIMA ASKIRA, Borno Women Development Initiative and Youth Programs Coordinator at Search for Common Ground Nigeria, briefed the Council via videoconference, asking its members to take action to prevent violent conflict in the Lake Chad Basin region.  Citizens of the region, young and old, boys and girls, as well as the international community, needed not only to fight Boko Haram, but also to combat interreligious and inter-ethnic tensions.  She also expressed hope that donor agencies and Council members would heed the region’s humanitarian appeal.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said that in 2016, a famine had likely occurred in the north-eastern part of Nigeria.  Severe fighting had kept humanitarian personnel from reaching the region, causing at least 2,000 people to die.  While the situation had improved somewhat, the region still lacked sufficient aid.  “We have to make sure that food assistance reaches those in need,” she said, stressing that the Government of Nigeria must collaborate with the United Nations to make progress.  Turning to Boko Haram, she said that the group systematically enslaved women and brainwashed children.  The statistics were grim and 76 per cent of internally displaced persons feared returning home.  Also concerning was severe malnutrition, and if 450,000 children did not receive food soon, 20 per cent of them would probably die.  To defeat Boko Haram, the international community must invest far more resources, while concerned countries in the region needed to improve their military operations to tackle that group.

PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) said that his country could not afford to stay silent on the issue.  “The situation is simply horrifying,” he said, adding that almost 11 million people needed humanitarian assistance.  Expressing concern about the brutality of Boko Haram, he emphasized that the group was a clear threat to international peace and security.  “We need to up our game,” he said, noting that, for its part, the United Kingdom had provided $97 million for the region.  As money alone would not solve the problem, he looked to the United Nations to increase its capacity and develop a multi-year plan for the region’s recovery.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) noted that Boko Haram still maintained a real capacity to carry out targeted and deadly attacks in the Lake Chad Basin and that the crisis brought about by the group was still threatening lives.  While the region was “off the radar” of many media outlets, it was one which required increased support.  In that regard, he called on Council members and other States to give assistance — including military and logistical support and training, such as those that France currently provided — and to prioritize humanitarian aid.  It was essential that the United Nations pursue and strengthen its efforts to help meet the needs of populations, he said, recalling in particular that international law applied to everyone and that all parties must grant the United Nations and its partners humanitarian access.  Another priority was the region’s development, which was needed to stop the terrorist movement from prospering on the back of a sense of poverty and deprivation.  In that vein, France had contributed €35 million euros through an initiative aimed at improving the region’s economic situation and creating employment, especially for young people.

WU HAITAO (China) said that while the overall situation in Central and West Africa had remained stable recently, with the Lake Chad Basin countries having made progress in combating terrorism, the security and humanitarian situations remained very serious.  The international community should strengthen its assistance to the countries of the region, supporting African counter-terrorism efforts in particular, while simultaneously respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the countries concerned.  Greater cooperation with regional and subregional organizations, including the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), was also needed.  States in the region should also be provided assistance to accelerate their development in order to address the root causes of conflict, he said, recalling that China’s Foreign Minister had just completed a visit to several African nations, including Nigeria.  The visit had been aimed at enhancing communication and cooperation and building trust — goals which China would continue to pursue in the coming years.

IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) said that military operations had made significant progress in fighting Boko Haram and limiting its actions.  He called upon international partners to increase the volume of aid to stop the group.  Also important was to prevent its recruitment and to begin rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.  The approach required strong support from Member States and the United Nations, he said, adding that it would guarantee peace while preventing the eruption of new crises.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin had unfortunately gone from bad to worse.  Despite progress in military operations against Boko Haram, the region must remain vigilant against insurgents who could still carried out attacks.  Long-term development would require persistent attention, he stated, adding that the Security Council needed to mobilize comprehensive responses to the complex issues facing the region and work towards sustaining peace.  It was equally vital for Lake Chad Basin countries to show ownership of development issues.  Japan supported the proposed Council mission to the region and hoped it would result in useful discussions with regional stakeholders.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) drew attention to many alarming aspects of the crisis, including the fact that the Lake Chad Basin had lost most of its surface area in recent years and that a populace three times the total population of Uruguay were currently in need of humanitarian assistance.  Noting that the international community did not hear much about the crisis, he also pointed to a number of additional aggravating factors, including the activities of Boko Haram and the lack of available food supplies.  Underscoring the multidimensional nature of the crisis, and recalling that the Council just days ago had held an open debate on sustaining peace, he said it was necessary to take action not only to mitigate the terrorist threat and support the population, but to improve the situation in the long-run.  In that regard, he called on the Council and the international community as a whole to “spare no effort” in helping the region overcome its development challenges.  “We need to look at the deep-rooted causes of the crisis,” he said, adding that “we need to offer lasting solutions to the people of region.”

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), noting that his country had followed the developments in the region very closely, said it had decided to open a new embassy in Niger.  He pointed to numerous human trafficking networks and transnational organized crime activities, calling upon the international community to do everything possible to put an end to them.  Regional organizations had an important role and the Council’s visit to the region would send a strong signal.  Boko Haram continued to commit sexual and gender-based violence.  Also concerning was the rising number of internally displaced persons, he said, adding that the current instability had created an environment conducive for smuggling and human trafficking.  It was crucial to increase economic and development assistance and to support institution-building.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that security challenges faced by the region were a matter of concern.  While taking note of the progress to defeat Boko Haram, he said that the group continued to pose a serious threat to peace and security by targeting innocent civilians, particularly women and children.  In order to move forward, it was essential to support countries in the region through information-sharing and capacity-building.  Furthermore, he emphasized the need for coordination between the United Nations and the African Union, noting that a Council visit to the region would send the right signal.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan), calling the situation in the Lake Chad Basin both difficult and volatile, expressed his delegation’s strong support for the African Union’s efforts to combat Boko Haram.  A global approach led by African countries was needed in that regard, as the group remained a great threat to the region despite some positive results.  Strongly condemning a recent suicide attack by two female bombers in Madagali, Nigeria, he went on to say that the deteriorating humanitarian situation also remained urgent.  More than 11 million people were in need of assistance, and there was a particular need to protect the rights of vulnerable groups.  Also pointing to added pressure placed on host communities as they received significant numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, he expressed support for the ECOWAS initiative aimed at creating a special “solidarity fund” for victims of terrorism, and called on States to pay closer attention to the links between peace, security and development.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) pointed to climate change, drought and the overuse of natural resources as some of the origins of the Lake Chad Basin region’s structural vulnerability.  While the spread of Boko Haram had been stemmed last year thanks to efforts of the region and subregion, the group was by no means defeated, and still had the capacity to wreak havoc through asymmetric attacks and other savagery.  Its actions also had devastating effects on the region’s political, social and human rights situations, he said, noting that appropriate humanitarian assistance was needed to meet the needs of the population. 

Calling on the international community to help bridge the funding shortfall described by Mr. O’Brien, he said States should also strengthen their efforts to fight Boko Haram and provide political, logistical and financial support to the regional structures currently engaged in that struggle.  While fragile progress had been made, the resilience of the region must be built up and more focus must be placed on development if the strategy was to be successful.  Among other things, he expressed support for a Council visit to the region.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) echoed concerns about the continued activities of Boko Haram, as well as the fact that the group pledged its allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  Calling for an immediate, unified and robust response to the threats posed by Boko Haram, he noted that the group refrained from direct clashes with Government forces, instead preferring to attack civilian and civilian facilities.  The challenges of refugees, humanitarian access and other issues could not be resolved without addressing that of terrorism, he stressed, welcoming recent regional efforts in that regard.  “Only through joint efforts will victory be achieved,” he said, welcoming the African Union’s recent decision to establish an anti-terrorism fund. 

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin was among the most neglected in the world, with the international community unable to understand how to deal its multifaceted problems.  A proper role for the Security Council needed to be found.  The Multinational Joint Task Force and others had made commendable efforts to fight Boko Haram, but the region needed additional international support.  The Council should engage in a serious discussion on how to strengthen existing sanctions against Boko Haram’s members and affiliates.  Relevant inputs and initiatives from the region would contribute to the Council’s work in that regard.  Improving socioeconomic conditions must also be a priority.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) agreed with other Council Members that Boko Haram continued to pose a serious threat to the international community.  Welcoming the efforts of neighbouring countries to combat the terrorist organization, he condemned its actions, which had severely undermined international peace and security.  The abduction of children and women and the destruction of schools must be unequivocally condemned.  He demanded the immediate release of all those abducted and said the humanitarian calamity affecting the region was of serious concern.  While the issue had been given less attention in the media, it remained one of the gravest challenges facing the international community.  Millions had been displaced and required humanitarian assistance.  “Here we have a situation that affects more people than the population of Bolivia,” he said, expressing serious concern for the 12 million affected by the crisis.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said the aim of putting the region on the agenda today was not meant to stigmatize but rather to shed a light on the conflict and violence that was causing immense human suffering.  Boko Haram was indiscriminately attacking and targeting civilians.  Other challenges such as climate change leading to resource scarcity and food insecurity only made the situation worse.  Highlighting the connection between climate and security, he said that the number of displaced and affected was almost impossible to imagine.  Regional efforts to resolve the crisis deserved international support, he added, urging bolstered aid and international engagement on the matter.  Financial institutions could fund recovery and reconstruction efforts that created the conditions needed for people to safely return home.  The voices of women must also be empowered.  The savagery of Boko Haram must be replaced with the rule of law, he added, urging the international community to stay engaged.

ANTHONY BOSAH (Nigeria) said that when Boko Haram “reared its ugly head” in Nigeria a couple of years ago, it impacted every facet of life from the economy and politics to the livelihoods of ordinary people.  While the insurgency tested Nigeria’s will, it failed to break the resilience of the Nigerian people.  The Government had made significant progress in the fight against Boko Haram, including by successfully taking over the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram militants had been hiding out.  But, while progress had been made, developmental challenges such as the shrinking Lake Chad persisted.  In response to the humanitarian challenges caused by the massive displacement of people, abandoned farmlands and the disruption of the educational system, Nigeria had embarked on programmes to restore livelihoods in communities.  It was also revamping security operations and taking a human rights-based approach to help rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction efforts.

The Presidential Committee on the North East Interventions was focusing on coordinating and providing synergy, leadership and direction for the various initiatives, he continued.  The Government was also accelerating the implementation of various humanitarian frameworks to alleviate human suffering.  Nigeria would remain fully committed to taking all the necessary measures to protect its civilians.  The Government was working hard to ensure the release of all Nigerians held captive by Boko Haram, including the Chibok schoolgirls who remained in the country’s “national consciousness”.  The Government stood ready to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of the girls and the continuation of their studies once they were freed.  Calling on the international community to continue to help fulfil humanitarian needs and address the root causes of terrorism, he stressed that action must no longer be delayed or downplayed.

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