In a television appearance this week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA) rhetorically asked “how far the United States is willing to go to save” the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, even if the host country is not willing to receive help. Senator John McCain, (R-AZ) believes the United States should send troops to Nigeria to rescue scores of women who were kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram “without the permission of the host country.” Much of the focus on US assistance to the Nigerian government has surrounded Nigeria’s stubbornness and resistance to international aid as well as their violations of human rights, which by law, prohibits the US from providing military assistance.
In the 1990’s the “Leahy laws” or “Leahy amendments” were enacted. According to a Congressional Research Service report, the two Leahy amendments made to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 “prohibits the furnishing of assistance…to any foreign security force unit that is credibly believed to have committed a gross violation of human rights,” and “inserted annually in DOD appropriations legislation…prohibited the use of DOD funds to support any training program…involving members of a unit of foreign security or police force if the unit had committed a gross violation of human rights.” Gross human rights violations are codified as “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person.”
Nigeria’s human rights violations, in part, are associated with its government’s handling of Boko Haram and more specifically, its inadequacy at dispelling Boko Haram insurgency. Yesterday, at a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing, Alice Friend, Principal Director for African Affairs at the Department of Defense, voiced her concern for the Nigerian government’s incapacity to provide leadership to its military noting that the military does not have the capacities of the Boko Haram insurgency, thus instilling fear into the Nigerian military to engage Boko Haram. The US State Department noted in their annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” “The media, politicians, local and international NGOs…frequently argued that the [Nigerian] government had been unable to curb widespread abuses by the Boko Haram insurgency because it had not provided a policy response that addressed underlying grievances or had not mounted an effective security response, or both. Observers argued that the government’s strategy had created a climate of impunity, whereby the civilian population was victimized by both Boko Haram and government forces.” The State Department attributed poor human rights practices associated with quelling Boko Haram to sub-par detention practices where many insurgents died in the care of the government as well as denial of fair public trials.
Among other human rights abuses not associated with the Boko Haram insurgency are violations and poor practices regarding freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly, and under-represented portions of the electorate in nationwide elections. While men comprise 90 percent of the electorate, the report noted that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has taken steps to diversify the government and cabinet. In addition, the nation is still ravaged by corruption. According to the US State Department’s annual “Country Reports on Terrorism,” the Jonathan administration conducted wide searches and arrests without warrants after a state of emergency was declared in light of a rising insurgency. Nigeria’s military ineptitude forced security to take precedence over liberty, thus connecting government efforts and violations of human rights associated with Boko Haram to enter into the civilian realm.
The Jonathan administration has been very stubborn in allowing the international community to assist. Officials who testified on Capitol Hill yesterday attributed the Nigerian government’s reluctance to label Boko Haram a terrorist organization for the delay in the US designation as many law makers have been dissatisfied with the State Department who only recently (November 2013) designated the group a foreign terrorist organization after nearly five years of activity. Senator McCain believes the United States should send troops into Nigeria despite the resistance of the host government under the UN Charter. The “responsibility to protect” or R2P, is a United Nations resolution whose three pillars are: 1) “The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide;” 2) “The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility,” and; 3) “The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
The R2P departs from the typical diplomatic and international relations doctrine of state sovereignty as it provides justification for violations of sovereignty. Under R2P, the United States could make a case for intervention, however, it would not solve the vacuum created by the Nigerian government for future counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The dilemma for the US government is that under US law (which there are avenues around as Ms. Friend mentioned in her testimony) the US cannot aid or train foreign governments guilty of gross violations of human rights. However, the Boko Haram insurgency and the Nigerian’s inability to quell it has largely been made up of many such violations. In order to instill future stability, the Nigerian military needs training in counterinsurgency.
As Ms. Friend noted in her testimony yesterday on Capitol Hill, the Leahy provisions have hindered US efforts although, the DOD has found that intelligence sharing, which the US is currently engaged in with the Nigerians – while walking a fine line, does not violate the laws. Ms. Friend, believes US efforts should go to training Nigerian military, especially in counterinsurgency efforts. She also noted that the US has been able to train certain units such as a new Ranger battalion in Nigeria. However, as Senator Robert Menendez, (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a rare appearance at a Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing yesterday, raised concerns to Ms. Friend that if the Nigerian military lacks readiness and additional capabilities to follow on “actionable intelligence,” training will be wasted. Despite the willingness of the US government to help, the factors mentioned above must be carefully considered before intervention.