Fulani killings of Nigerian Christians meets standard for 'genocide,’ Jubilee Campaign says

Panelists participate in a panel discussion about the ongoing human rights abuses committed in Nigeria by Fulani militants against Christian farming communities in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 2019. From left to right: Faith McDonnell from the Institute on Religion & Democracy, Nigerian Christian Toynin Shonowo, Nigerian Pastor Yakubu Bakfwash and Ann Buwalda from the Jubilee Campaign.
Panelists participate in a panel discussion about the ongoing human rights abuses committed in Nigeria by Fulani militants against Christian farming communities in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 2019. From left to right: Faith McDonnell from the Institute on Religion & Democracy, Nigerian Christian Toynin Shonowo, Nigerian Pastor Yakubu Bakfwash and Ann Buwalda from the Jubilee Campaign. | Jubilee Campaign/Jenitza Castro.

An international human rights NGO has submitted research and data to the International Criminal Court contending that the standard for genocide has now been reached when it comes to the massacres of Christian farming communities in Nigeria by Fulani militants. 

The Jubilee Campaign, which advocates on behalf of religious minorities across the globe and successfully petitioned the ICC to indict Boko Haram for their killings across northeastern Nigeria, submitted its new report “Nigeria: The Genocide is Loading” to the ICC’s investigative offices in Hague last week. 

The report documents the increasing scale and severity of Fulani militant attacks against predominantly Christian farming communities in Nigeria and chronicles at least 52 Fulani militant attacks between the start of 2019 and June 12. 

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“Nearly every single day, I wake up with text messages from partners in Nigeria, such as this morning: ‘Herdsmen stab 49-year-old farmer to death in Ogan,’” human rights lawyer and Jubilee Campaign Director Ann Buwalda said during a panel discussion in Washington, D.C, this month.  

“Frankly, I don’t know where Ogan is. I don’t know this 49-year-old farmer. But when I wake up and read that, ‘I weep.’ It’s the conscience of all of us around the world that need to weep when we read that. If you get that every single day and that's how you wake up, you realize that it is up to us to do something.”

While the Nigerian government and others have written off the Fulani militant attacks as merely part of a decades-old “farmer-herder clashes” between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt, the Jubilee Campaign report pushes back on that notion. 

The report states that Fulani extremist attacks are not only happening with greater regularity and severity but also appear to be premeditated, target civilians, and focused on Christian-populated villages as well as churches.

Many Christian communities across the Middle Belt, including entire tribes, have been displaced from their homes due to the attacks. 

“Why are there 180,000 [internally displaced persons] in Benue state? Why are there nearly 1 million IDPs from the northeast of Nigeria?” Buwalda asked. “It isn’t only Boko Haram. It is also Fulani herdsmen and militants that are behind these attacks.” 

Citing data compiled by World Watch Monitor, the report asserts that about 4,194 Christians were killed and 2,957 were injured in Nigeria between 2014 and 2016 with 30 churches and over 195,576 Christian homes damaged. 

“In 2018, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project reported how Fulani militants constituted the deadliest threat to civilians in Nigeria, killing over 1,000 civilians in 2018, surpassing Boko Haram Terrorist Group in casualties,” the report reads. “Now in 2019 alone, Fulani militants have attacked 20 villages. Their target is Christian-majority villages where they kill civilians, burn their homes, leaving the community fear-stricken and forcing many to abandon their homes.”

The Nigerian-based civil society group International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law has reported that no less than 2,400 Christians were killed by Fulani militants in 2018. 

The Jubilee Campaign and ADF International raised concern to the ICC about the situation in Nigeria in 2016. The report detests the fact that the Fulani militant attacks are being described as “clashes” and a “farmer-herder” conflict. The Jubilee Campaign reports that such terms are “similar to the words used to describe the atrocities that were later revealed in Darfur, Sudan.” 

“The situation has altered considerably and the reality is quite different from 2016,” the report warns. “Caution is warranted in prescribing guilt to any group but in view of the evidence aggregated, the situation can no longer be called clashes when a group of over 200 raid a Christian village and kill civilians in the early morning hours while they are sleeping. The ICC in their ongoing surveillance of Nigeria should update their information for the record.” 

Buwalda told those gathered for the panel event that the report the Jubilee Campaign submitted to the ICC is a “summary” and the organization is planning to put together a more detailed report documenting who is being persecuted and show that the “standard of genocide has now been reached.”

“We have been arguing for several years now, as well as to the International Criminal Court, that these have been crimes against humanity. When the ICC indicted Boko Haram, they used the term ‘crimes against humanity.’ I believe legally that we are now rising to the place of genocide,” Buwalda said. “If you look at international standards, ... each of these criteria have actually been reached.”

Those criteria include “killing members of a group,” “causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group,” “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part” and “imposing measures to prevent births within a group or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." 

Buwalda admitted that the criteria related to preventing births within a social group may be the “weaker element” of the organization’s argument but contends that the “first three are elements that have been found.”

“We believe that genocide is loading. We believe that genocidal behavior and conduct has been taking place and that the perpetrators are not being prosecuted by the Nigerian government,” she stated. 

Buwalda and panelists were asked by International Christian Concern Regional Manager Nathan Johnson how a genocide declaration can be made without accusing the entire ethnic group of being a terrorist group.

“[T]hen, the genocide is going to turn the other way. We don’t want to see that either,” Johnson said, stressing that the crimes are being committed by a “militant sect.” 

Buwalda said that one of the most important things for her organization, other NGOs and investigators to establish is who is financially behind the Fulani attacks. It is important to note that many attacks occur with Fulani radicals armed with expensive assault rifles. There have even been reports of helicopters aiding the attacks. 

“[We need] to call this definitely being crimes against humanity. That has been clear for a number of years. And then using the term ‘genocidal,’” she said. “I know the other terms that is a preference is ‘Fulani militants’ as opposed to ‘herdsmen.’ If we are going to be using a common vernacular, those are some points that I would make.”

Pastor Bakfwash, a panelist who himself was kidnapped twice by Fulani militants, slammed the Nigerian federal government for not doing its due diligence to figure out who is behind the attacks. 

“There must be a deliberate attempt to find out who and who are exactly behind what is going in Nigeria,” he said. 

“If helicopters can be sighted in the community, helicopters are not owned by ordinary citizens. It’s not a motorbike or a bicycle. It is owned by rich individuals or companies. Somebody rich is responsible. These kinds of individuals can be found. If there is a helicopter flying in, there must be a camera somewhere where the government can identify. A helicopter does not show itself and disappear. No, it uses airspace. Someone must be controlling that airspace and he or she knows where the ... chopper is coming from.”

Buwalda stressed that her organization desires to see the ICC take up such an investigation and encouraged other organizations to submit their data and research to the ICC. 

“The U.S. government relies on organizations but it has really no clout to impose anything on Nigeria,” she said. “Nigeria is a member of the Rome Statute. So Nigeria has been under investigation now for nearly 10 years. Other organizations over the course of the 10 years have presented reports. I think it is vital for every organization to put forward documented reports.”

Earlier this week, Former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, asking him to create an open forum to address the insecurity plaguing Nigeria. 

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