posted on Mon 19 Jan 2015 12:09 PM
Council to Adopt Presidential Statement on Boko Haram

Later today (19 January), the Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on Boko Haram. (Boko Haram is not formally on the Council’s agenda and the adoption will be under the “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” agenda item.) Nigeria circulated the draft on Friday night (16 January) and following comments by email on Saturday, the draft was put under silence until Sunday morning (18 January). Adoption is planned this afternoon, following the open debate on Inclusive Development.

This will be the Council’s first formal reaction to Boko Haram’s activities. In the past it has responded to specific terrorist attacks by Boko Haram through press statements. In 2014, as Boko Haram intensified its attacks, three press statements were released in connection with specific events in Nigeria. The first, (SC/11352) was issued following the 13-14 April terrorist bombings in Abuja. The second (SC/11387) covered the 9 May terrorist attacks in Gamboru Ngala, the abduction of 276 schoolgirls on 14 April in Chibok, Nigeria, as well as the reported abduction on 5 May of eight girls in Warabe. A press statement on 10 November condemned a suicide bombing at a school in Potiskum in Yobe State (SC/11639).

In addition, in a 9 July 2014 press statement on the activities of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) (SC/11466) Council members expressed concern about the threat of Boko Haram to north-eastern Nigeria and neighbouring countries, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

It seems that events of the past two weeks, including Boko Haram’s overrunning of the Multinational Joint Task Force(MNJTF) headquarters in Baga, Nigeria on 3 January, led to interest in having a formal Council response. (The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) member states (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria), along with Benin, are seeking to deploy the MNJTF to combat Boko Haram.) This event led to over 13,000 people fleeing to Chad and estimates from several hundred to as many as 2,000 civilians being killed, prompting interest in having a formal Council response.

Council members were not given much time to reach agreement on the draft text as there was a desire to have the statement adopted prior to a meeting tomorrow (20 January) in Niamey, Niger on the regional response to Boko Haram. The only substantive changes seem to have come from Russia, which expressed reservations over language in the original draft on states’ responsibility to protect its population from specific crimes. Instead it suggested a previously used more general formulation on the responsibility of states to protect its civilian population in accordance with international law, which appears in the final version. A reference to the Rome Statute (of the International Criminal Court) was also replaced with a reference to crimes against humanity in line with language from the 9 May press statement on abduction of Chibok schoolgirls.

Using language similar to the 2014 press statements, the draft presidential statement condemns in the strongest terms Boko Haram’s recent escalation of attacks, in particular, the reported use of children suicide bombers in Maiduguri and Potiskum on 10 and 11 January; the attacks in Baga from 3 to 7 January, which led to massive destruction of civilian homes and casualties; and attacks along the Nigeria-Chad-Cameroon border and in northern Cameroon. It also strongly condemns and deplores all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by Boko Haram since 2009.

The draft presidential statement emphasises Boko Haram’s regional impact by expressing serious concern over the large scale civilian displacement of Nigerians within the country and into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger and the scale of the growing humanitarian crisis. It further expresses deep concern that Boko Haram’s activities are undermining the peace and stability of the West and Central Africa regions. Additionally it demands that Boko Haram cease hostilities, disarm and release all abductees, including the 276 schoolgirls from Chibok captured in April.

In the draft presidential statement there are also references to the MNJTF. (The deplopyment of MNJTF has progressed slowly, hampered by financial constraints and the failure of the five countries to agree on cross-border operations.) While taking note both of several meetings at which this task force was discussed and of the decision of the LCBC Member States and Benin to operationalise the Multinational Joint Task Force, the draft presidential statement urges LCBC states and Benin to undertake further planning toward the sustainable, viable and effective operationalisation of the MNJTF and to identify the means and modalities for the MNJTF’s envisioned deployment.

Council members have been discussing the MNJTF since late last year. Following the AU Peace and Security Council 25 November communiqué calling for a Security Council resolution authorising the MNJTF, Nigeria circulated a draft resolution that endorsed the force. During initial discussions of the text, several members expressed their discomfort with endorsing the force without a fully articulated concept of operations. The need for greater clarity on the modalities of the MNJTF was reiterated by some members during consultations on UNOWA, following a briefing by UNOWA head Mohammed Ibn Chambas, on 8 January (S/PV.7357).

During the discussions on Nigeria’s draft resolution last year, some members also suggested that a presidential statement might be more appropriate than a resolution, arguing that it may not be necessary for the Council to authorise the force’s deployment and citing the precedent of presidential statements on the regional task force to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army. (S/PRST/2011/21 commended AU efforts to establish a Regional Intervention Force, a Joint Operations Centre and a Joint Coordination Mechanism to combat the LRA, and S/PRST/2012/18 welcomed the launching of these initiatives). After these initial discussions, further negotiations on the Nigerian draft were put on hold.

The Council’s’ ability to react to Boko Haram’s activities appear to have been constrained by having Nigeria on the Council as Nigeria, until recently, was not particularly keen to have the issue discussed. Over the last six months, Nigeria has become more open to the Council considering the Boko Haram situation more fully, agreeing at a 17 May 2014 Paris summit on Boko Haram to pursue Council sanctions against the group which led to it being listed in the Al-Qaida sanctions committee. As a member of the AU Peace and Security Council, Nigeria also supported the November decision to pursue a Council resolution to authorise the MNJTF.

Another Council member, Chad, also has a keen interest in this issue. The draft presidential statement includes a paragraph referring to a 14 January communiqué of the Chadian government, which pledged active support in the fight against Boko Haram and the 16 January vote by the country’s National Assembly to authorise Chadian forces to assist Cameroon and Nigeria in combatting the group. At a meeting of the 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee on 15 January, Chad presented the communiqué that stated that attempts by Boko Haram to destabilise Cameroon’s far north seriously threatened the security and stability of Chad.