Nigerian government security forces and Islamist militant group Boko Haram [BBC backgrounder] have likely both committed crimes against humanity in the conflict between the two groups which began in 2009, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF; press release] Thursday. The report states that Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 1,500 people, primarily police and government forces, Christians, and Muslims accused of cooperating with government forces. The group is accused of bombing police stations, newspaper offices, Christian churches and a UN building. The group is also accused of executing police officers, forcing Christian men to convert to Islam or be murdered and assassinating Muslim clerics and political officials in the government. The report states that Nigerian security forces are also guilty of human rights abuses, however, including using excessive force, burning homes, abusing suspects and executing Boko Haram suspects without a trial. The report calls on Boko Haram to cease its attacks immediately and for the Nigerian government to halt its own abuses and bring individuals on both sides of the conflict to justice.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is a sin," has been fighting to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state and has warned Christians in the mostly Muslim northern regions to leave the area. The group has publicly claimed responsibility for several attacks, including church bombings [AP report] on December 25 that killed approximately 40 people. In January UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged Nigerian leaders from all sectors of society to make a concerted effort to stop the sectarian violence [JURIST report]. Although Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan [BBC profile] quickly promised to bring the militants to justice, he has since declared a state of emergency [WP report] in several locations. The Christmas day bombings were internationally condemned, including being labeled as "senseless violence" by the White House [AP report] and "acts of "blind hatred" by the Vatican [AP report]. Additionally, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] has previously expressed concern [JURIST report] over acts of ethnic violence by Boko Haram. Specifically, the Office called the group's August bombing of a UN building in Nigeria [VO report] "cowardly." At least 18 people were killed in the attack.