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May 15, 2014

Nigeria Hearing Should Examine Holistic Approach to U.S. Counterterrorism

Washington, D.C. – As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convenes to examine Boko Haram’s recent kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls and the United States’ response, Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration to make clear to the Nigerian government that improving Nigerian justice and the rule of law is a key priority in counterterrorism cooperation moving forward. The organization also notes that members of the committee should follow the Pentagon’s caution in conflating the threat posed by Boko Haram with that of other, anti-American terrorist groups.                                   

“Boko Haram's actions and ideology are repellent, and the girls, their families, and Nigerian civil society deserve our support,” said Human Rights First’s Heather Hurlburt. “While it is essential that the United States provide support to those who are searching for these innocent children, this situation is a reminder that not every terrorist outrage is best met with a U.S. military response. Nigeria has not asked for U.S. military involvement, and the United States has no interest in conflating Boko Haram with extremist groups that have dedicated years to harming Americans and with whom Congress and the American people understand us to be in a state of war. The committee should use Thursday’s hearing as an opportunity to examine smart counterterrorism policies that are effective in combatting extremism before troops are necessary.”

This week, as U.S. and British military advisers arrived in Nigeria to assist efforts to find and return the missing girls, the Nigerian government refused to release all Boko Haram members in exchange for the kidnapped girls. Allegations have continued to emerge that the Nigerian military knew about the attack in advance and did nothing, and that, against the backdrop of the security forces' appalling human rights record,  it arrested civil society leaders seeking more efforts on the girls’ behalf.

As the United States identifies the Nigerian units it needs to partner with to address these challenges, the Leahy Law requires it to screen out gross abusers of human rights from receiving U.S. military assistance and training.  This is especially important in Nigeria where 15% of units that apply are found to include a gross violator; globally, the United States rejects about 1% of all applications based on Leahy considerations.

Hurlburt added, “As Congress and the administration consider further ways to aid Nigeria, the United States should make sure that any assistance it provides strengthens, rather than undermines, the human rights of Nigerians.”

For more information or to speak with Hurlburt, contact Corinne Duffy atduffyc@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.