With the violence that ISIS has sown in the West, it's sometimes easy to forget about Boko Haram, another Islamist terror outfit, which while pledging allegiance to ISIS has confined its horrors to western Africa. There, it has killed an estimated 20,000 people since 2009, with methods of murder that have included using young girls as suicide bombers, establishing itself as one of the bloodiest insurgencies in the world.
On Tuesday, a Nigerian military fighter jet bombed a refugee camp in the northeastern town of Rann, part of a turbulent corner shared with Chad and Cameroon, that has seen Boko Haram step up attacks in recent weeks. The Nigerian military said the bombing, which killed 70 civilians including nine aid workers, was an accident in its fight to oust the extremist group.
The incident threw a spotlight on the plight of Nigerians trying to escape Boko Haram's assaults. The Rann camp was one such place for the 2 million Nigerians who have fled their homes. But Tuesday's tragic human toll also points to another problem that has received scant attention — the military's heavy-handed treatment of civilians in its quest to purge Boko Haram.
Aftermath of Tuesday's bombing — Photo: Medecins Sans Frontieres
Global activist groups say the response of security forces has included serious violations of human rights and international law. A 2015 Amnesty International report detailed "shocking levels of deaths in military custody, extrajudicial executions, torture, unlawful detention and arbitrary arrests."
Human Rights Watch also reports: "Since 2009, hundreds of men and boys in the northeast have been rounded up and detained in inhumane conditions for suspected membership or provision of support for Boko Haram." The watchdog notes that security forces implicated in abuses have rarely been prosecuted, leading to a culture of impunity.
The Guardian, a newspaper based in Lagos, reports that Nigerian opposition politicians called for an independent investigation of Tuesday's camp bombing. Such a probe could be one step toward culling that culture of impunity that leaves too many civilians in the crossfire.