UN rights chief urges Nigeria leaders to halt sectarian violence
UN rights chief urges Nigeria leaders to halt sectarian violence
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[JURIST] The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday urged Nigerian leaders from all sectors of society to make a concerted effort to stop the recent violence [press release] against civilians unleashed by the Islamic militant group known as Boko Haram [BBC backgrounder]. Only a day after the group’s leader promised further attacks against Nigerian citizens, Pillay called specifically on the country’s religious leaders to come together and “speak with one voice” in order to prevent future violence:

One day it is a church congregation that is being targeted, the next day it is a mosque, and the day after that it is some secular target. The religious tolerance that has been a central tenet of Nigeria’s Federation is being threatened, and I urge all Nigeria’s leaders to avoid falling into the trap of calling for, or sanctioning, retaliation or making other provocative statements. Everybody will be the loser if Boko Haram succeeds in its aim and efforts to sow discord between Muslim and Christian, or pit Northerner against Southerner. The fact that people are already leaving some areas where they are in a minority, out of fear of attacks by the majority, shows just how dangerous this is becoming for the country as a whole.

Emphasizing the importance of human rights, Pillay further stated that Boko Haram’s attacks against civilians on grounds of religion or ethnicity could be crimes against humanity, and reminded Nigerian authorities to observe human rights and transparency during the course of their investigations. Said Pillay, “There must be no impunity for any acts of violence, including those committed in retaliation for earlier attacks.”

Boko Haram 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 been blamed by Nigerian authorities for hundreds of deaths in bombings and shooting over the last 18 months, and has publicly claimed responsibility for several of the attacks, including church bombings [AP report] on December 25 that killed approximately 40 people. 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.