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Human Rights Watch accuses Nigeria Army of threatening aid workers’ safety

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Human Rights Watch on Wednesday accused the Nigeria Army of threatening the safety and effectiveness of aid workers in northeast Nigeria.

“Aid agencies are unable to respond effectively to the crisis in northeastern Nigeria due to worsening insecurity and stifling operational requirements imposed by military and civilian authorities,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“Such restrictions give the impression that the organizations are not independent, making them vulnerable to attacks by Boko Haram.”

With 1.8 million people internally displaced and over 7 million people in need of urgent life-saving assistance, as a result of the 10-year insurgency by Boko Haram, the humanitarian crisis in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states is rated among the world’s most severe.

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However, the group believes the Nigeria Army has not been supportive of humanitarian workers in rendering help to those in need.

“Nigerian authorities should ensure that aid agencies can deliver timely and effective help to people affected by the conflict,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Undue restrictions are intensifying the suffering of vulnerable people in dire need of life-saving assistance.”

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed two senior military officials and 19 aid workers from nine organizations working in Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria, and in Abuja between November 2019 and February 2020 for an assessment of challenges of aid organisations in the region.

The aid workers, according to Human Rights Watch, said that the amount of control the “Nigerian military now has over their activities prevents them from reaching millions of people and causes safety concerns as other parties to the conflict may view aid groups as taking the government’s side.”

“We are not working where or how we want to work,” the country director of one aid organization said. “Any pushback can escalate to hostilities with the military with dire consequences.”

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Human Rights Watch said Nigeria’s military authorities are using the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act, 2013 to threaten to arrest and restrict activities of aid organisation with allegations that they were engaging with terrorist groups.

The Nigeria Army in September 2019 accused Action Action Hunger of supplying terrorists with food and drugs. It declared the agency “persona non grata”. The army subsequently shut down Action Action Hunger’s offices in northeast Nigeria.

Also in September 2019, the Nigerian army closed the offices of humanitarian aid organisation Mercy Corps after troops said they found a large sum of money allegedly belonging to the agency.

“Mercy Corps is suspending operations in Borno and Yobe States, Nigeria, following the closure of four of our field offices by the Nigerian military,” said Amy Fairbairn, its head of media and communications, in a statement.

HRW said the government restrictions were contrary to the humanitarian principle of independence outlined by International humanitarian law which states that all parties to armed conflicts “must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need, which is impartial in character and conducted without any adverse distinction.”

“The cumulative impact of the regulatory requirements and restrictions on humanitarian agencies operating in northeastern Nigeria is a serious cause for concern,” Ewang said.

“The United Nations and government agencies, including the humanitarian affairs ministry, should work to support the efforts of the aid groups to save lives in line with the principles that guide them.”


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