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Security Council press statement on Boko Haram

Council members are about to issue a press statement on recent attacks in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Nigeria circulated a draft text yesterday afternoon, which was put under silence until 4 pm. Several proposals were made, and Nigeria circulated a revised draft placed under another short silence procedure until 9 pm. Members were unable to agree on the revised draft press statement last night and met this morning to try and resolve their differences A new draft was put under silence until 3 pm today and at press time it appeared that it was about to be issued.

The press statement condemns in the strongest terms the 5 May attack in Gamboru Ngala, which according to the government of Nigeria killed between 100 and 150 civilians at a market. . (Media reports have indicated a figure of approximately 300 people.) It also condemns and expresses outrage over the 14 April abduction by Boko Haram of 276 school girls as well as the reported abduction of 8 girls on 5 May. It also demanded the immediate release of the girls in captivity.

It seems the main disagreement has been over reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to the need to bring those responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law to justice. The original statement by Nigeria included language on the ICC in this context. Luxembourg made a proposal to strengthen this language, which apparently had the support of several other members. However, it seems that Chad, Russia and Rwanda objected to any inclusion of reference to the ICC and the revised draft circulated yesterday evening accommodated the Russian request by removing language on the ICC. However, Australia, France, Luxembourg, the UK and US were keen to retain the ICC language. The draft put under silence today did not reference the ICC but included language on the need for perpetrators to be held accountable at national and international levels and that some of these crimes may amount to crimes against humanity.

This press statement also expresses concern more generally over terrorist attacks conducted by Boko Haram since 2009 and made specific reference to how this could be a threat to the stability and peace of western and other parts of Africa. Significantly, it seems that it also notes that the Council intends to consider appropriate measures against Boko Haram and will continue to follow the situation of the abducted school girls.

The circulation by Nigeria of the draft press statement yesterday followed a phone conversation by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, and a subsequent announcement by the UN that Ban was sending a high-level representative to Abuja to discuss with the government ways in which the UN can support Nigeria in addressing its “internal challenges.”

The violence from Boko Haram is not new and the Council has issued statements in recent years condemning specific terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. Following the 26 August 2011 bombing of the UN office in Abuja, the Council issued four press statements that condemned different attacks through 26 January 2012. More recently, whereas no press statement was released after 50 boys from a state college in northeastern Nigeria were burned or slaughtered by Boko Haram on 25 February, on 14 April, it issued a press statement (SC/11352) following the 13-14 April terrorist bombings in Abuja that killed some 70 people. Council members, however, did not react swiftly to the recent kidnappings and killing of students, possibly because members might have been sensitive to Nigeria being on the Council, as well as the President of the Council for April.

Boko Haram has demonstrated the ability to launch deadly attacks, which frequently target civilians. A March 2014 Amnesty International report highlighted that during the first quarter of 2014 more than 1500 people have died in Boko Haram related fighting. Perhaps the most bloody incident occurred on 14 March in Maiduguri,when Boko Haram attempted a jail break from a military detention center that lead to reportedly more than 600 people being killed, mostly unarmed prisoners as they fled the jail.

However, it was not until the recent abduction of the school girls, and the video announcement by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau that the girls would be sold into slavery and as wives, that there has been more widespread media attention on the organisation. It seems that a hashtag activism and twitter campaign#BringOurGirlsBack, has also contributed to heightened awareness of the activities of Boko Haram. (The hashtag has been used over a million times.) In the last week, Nigeria has been offered assistance, including from China, France, the UK and the US, to help rescue the girls, which has been accepted by Nigeria.

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