Is Nigeria on the brink of Genocide?

Fulani cattle being driven into Lagos from the North. West Nigeria. Photo: Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project

For the past decade, reports of widespread violence in Nigeria have often been attributed to one of the most notorious terrorist groups in the world: Boko Haram. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2017 report, interventions from the Multinational Joint Task Force have seen an 80% fall in the number of deaths caused by Boko Haram in 2016. Despite this progress, another group known as the Fulani extremists has risen to instill terror across Nigeria. Reports from The Guardian, Amnesty International, The Telegraph, CNN, and others have detailed the killings at the hands of the Fulani over the years. Although the exact number is unknown, reports have estimated the Fulani are responsible for killing thousands to date, with 717 deaths in the last two years alone. So who are the Fulani? Who are they murdering, and why? Perhaps most importantly – is this a genocide, and what is being done to stop these killings?

Who are the Fulani:

The Fulani are a group of predominantly Muslim nomadic herdsmen in Nigeria. As an ethnic group of 20 million people, they live in West and Central Africa and account for close to 90% of the region’s herders. As with any group associated with the word extremist, it should be stressed here that only a small subset of these herders is responsible for the attacks across Nigeria. As the Fulani are a nomadic group, control over land and a wealth of resources are an essential component of their daily lives. However, a lack of resources and issues over land control and desertification in Nigeria have exasperated the conflict between these nomadic herders (Muslim Fulani’s) and sedentary farmers (Christian farmers). This conflict has been further escalated by religious splits. When looking at the region, Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the East/South are seen as Christian. The middle, commonly referred to as the “Middle Belt”, is regarded as religiously diverse; an area which has suffered the most in recent widespread attacks.

What’s happening in Nigeria right now?

From 2012 – 2016, Fulani killings of Christians accounted for over 2,500 deaths. Since then, those killings have risen to an incredulous 6,000 deaths with the Middle Belt being at the center of these attacks. While there was an increase in violence from roughly 2013 onward, it was further aggravated after a controversial law was passed in 2017 which banned open grazing by herders in an attempt to quell Fulani violence. Rather than halting attacks, it has been a catalyst for increasing them. A detailed timeline of these attacks can be found here, but include:

  • January 2018: 80 people killed and 80,000 forced to flee in a spate of violence, particularly in Makurdi, Benue’s capital.
  • April 24: around 30 Fulani herdsmen stormed a church during mass and massacred nearly 22 people in Benue state (Middle Belt).
  • June 25: 238 Christians were killed in a number of attacks by militia in Plateau State.

As it stands, Fulani extremists in the Middle Belt have undertaken more attacks and are responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram were in 2016.


The Nigerian government has been slow to put any real preventative measures in place to halt these killings. President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the murders thus far, but this has done little to actually stop the violence. This is no doubt a complicated situation and the Nigerian government are still trying to cope with the decades long mass displacement and killing sprees of Boko Haram. However, the government needs to step up and provide aid to the now displaced Christians living in temporary camps. Further security measures need to be put in place to try to protect those at risk and deter violence. The situation has also received condemnation from prominent international figures. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has warned that the violence is a major security threat, which risks escalating into terrorist attacks. UN Secretary General António Guterres has also expressed concern over the killing of innocent Nigerians. In a statement released this past June after a number of killings in the region, the Secretary General said he:

urges all concerned governments, regional organizations, civil society and other relevant actors to work together to find acceptable and lasting solutions to these conflicts, in full compliance with existing regional regulatory frameworks and international humanitarian and human rights law.

Is this genocide?:

While the above-mentioned responses have highlighted the shock and condemnation of the international community, the Fulani attacks on Christians have not yet been classified as genocide. There is no doubt that the killing of innocents is heinous regardless of the circumstances and these attacks could certainly be classed as mass murders, if not even ethnic cleansing. Using the term genocide, however, carries serious consequences. It requires a response from the international community if the sovereign country in question cannot, or will not, take preventative measures. It calls for humanitarian interventions which often require military force to stop the killings. Article 2 of the Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroyin whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” such as

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

Two arguments could be made here. On the one hand, it is not yet clear whether the Fulani’s intent is to wipe out Christians from Nigeria altogether, to bring about their very destruction; as opposed to wanting to seize land and killing anyone who gets in their way. If this is the case, it would not be classified as a genocide, but rather mass murder. On the other hand, the Fulani can clearly be accused of violating this Convention, as they continue to brutally murder entire villages of a specific religious group and cause them grievous bodily harm. While events may have originated from a disparity over land and resources, it is now unfolding into the targeted killings of a group not just for their land but also because of their religious affiliation.

Debates will rage on about whether to call this a genocide and whether the international community should act. First and foremost, the Nigerian government has a responsibility to do something before calling upon the international community. If it cannot do so, then international humanitarian law should be imposed to help those being targeted. Therefore, we are calling upon to Nigerian government and those in a position of power to prevent an already incredibly complex situation from spiraling into a full-blown genocide. This can be done by:

  • Finding and prosecuting those responsible for the killings, as the Fulani have not received any punishment from the law thus far.
  • Contacting local Nigerian politicians in affected communities to see what is being done to help the dispersed and the families of murder victims.
  • Launching a full investigation into these crimes, establishing the victims, the perpetrators, their motivations and what preventative measures can be put in place.
  • Disarming the Fulani, as many have committed these crimes using AK-47’s. It is unclear how they have access to such weapons. If the Nigerian government can stop or sanction the selling and trading of arms to the Fulani, it will not only prevent mass murdering but could lead to the possible arrest of Fulani members attempting to buy and use these arms for destruction.
  • Provide safety and aid to those facing mass displacement.

This is an incredibly complex situation and the aforementioned information is a simplification of events for the purpose of spreading awareness and calling for justice. There are many other steps that can, and must, be taken.

In the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, many analysts referred to it is as a “tribal war”, ignoring that the reality was the polar opposite. We are asking the Nigerian government and intentional community to not let Nigeria become the next Rwanda. Anyone who is in a position to act must do so before 6,000 dead becomes 60,000.


  • Tweeting: .@MBuhari What is the Nigerian government doing to resolve the ongoing #Fulani attacks? To investigate the crimes and prosecute the perpetrators? To investigate the supply chain of AK-47s? To assist all victims of the conflict?
  • Tweeting: .@PoliceNG Provide safety to those being targeted in #Nigeria by deploying force in areas under threat of #Fulani attacks!
  • Tweeting: .@UNHumanRights @UN_Nigeria @UNDPNigeria How do we obtain peace and stop the #Fulani killings in #Nigeria?
  • Tweeting: .@bukolasaraki @atiku @nnngo What can be done to stop the #Fulani attacks in #Nigeria?
  • Start a petition to demand that your national government put pressure on Nigeria to act:


To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, Switzerland

4 September 2018

Re: Addressing the serious human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan


We write to you in advance of the 39th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to share our serious concerns over the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan. We call upon your delegation to support the development and adoption of a strong monitoring and reporting mandate on Sudan under the Council’s agenda item 4. The resolution should mandate a Special Rapporteur to monitor, verify and report on ongoing human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law, recommend concrete ways to end them, and urge the Government of Sudan to implement the recommendations made to it by UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, including mechanisms mandated by the Council.

Our organizations are concerned about the suppression of peaceful protests by government security forces with unlawful use of excessive force, attacks on the media and impermissible restrictions on access to information, targeting of various civil society actors including human rights defenders, activists, journalists, bloggers and other dissenting voices with threats, intimidation, harassment, arbitrary detention and trumped-up criminal prosecutions, other restrictions on independent civil society, use of torture and other ill-treatment by national security officials, and on-going violations in the conflict areas of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The recent decision to downsize UNAMID amidst continuing fighting and attacks on civilians, including internally displaced persons (IDPs)[1] is deeply troubling.  Recent attacks on civilians underscore the need for continued monitoring of the human rights situation in Darfur.[2] For example, from 9 March – 2 April 2018, at least 23 civilians were killed and tens seriously injured when 12 villages were burnt to the ground during attacks in Eastern Jebel Marra between the government forces and the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdelwahid al Nur (SLA-AW).[3] Sexual violence continues with impunity.[4] On 19 December 2017, a 16 year old girl and a 19 year old woman were held at gunpoint and raped repeatedly by six armed militiamen as they were out gathering firewood three kilometres from the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Nertiti town, Central Darfur state.[5]

Following declaration of ceasefires by the Government of Sudan and the two factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement /Army– North ( SPLM/A-N) led by Abdelaziz Adam El Hilu and Malik Agar, the government has largely refrained from aerial bombardments and ground attacks. Whilst there have been no reports of open hostilities between the armed forces, monitors on the ground have reported incidents of looting of property and abductions by armed militias allied to the Government of Sudan. These incidents, which may amount to ceasefire violations, have contributed to food insecurity and remain a serious concern for communities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.[6]

Sudanese authorities have also continued to restrict basic freedoms of assembly and association through violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters and other restrictions on civil society organizations and on independent voices. Authorities have harassed journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members, including through arbitrary and prolonged detention, sometimes in unknown locations, without charge and access to their families and lawyers.[7] On 29 May 2018, Mr. Hisham Ali Mohamad Ali, a human rights activist, was detained by the NISS upon arrival at the Khartoum International Airport following his deportation from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Hisham is still in detention without charge.[8]  Authorities have continued to subject detainees to torture and other ill-treatment in custody,[9] causing the death of two individuals in two  instances in March and April 2018.[10]

The Government of Sudan has also imposed restrictions on the movement of activists engaging in advocacy internationally. In August 2018, two members of the Darfur Bar Association were briefly detained and their passports confiscated in the Khartoum airport upon their return to Sudan after they accompanied the Secretary General of the DBA, Abdelrahman Elgasim, to the US to accept an award from the American Lawyers’ Association for his work on behalf of human rights in Darfur.

Restrictions on the media continue, especially during protests.[11]  The national security agency has continued to apply post-print censorship to daily newspapers and prohibit chief editors from publishing on issues deemed controversial or critical of the ruling party.[12]

Sudanese authorities also routinely repress the human rights of women, including through public order provisions that criminalize “indecent” dress such as wearing trousers. Ms. Winnie Omer, a women’s rights activists based in Khartoum was first targeted on 10 December 2017, when the public order police in Khartoum arrested and charged her with “indecent dress” a few hours after she attended a hearing of 24 women charged with indecency for wearing pants during a private women-only party.[13]


Authorities have also relied on other repressive laws and various forms of harassment, including sexual harassment, to target activists. On 20 February 2018, Ms. Omer and three friends were arrested and detained for five days before being released on bail. The group was accused of, amongst other charges, prostitution, and Ms Omer and another female human rights defender were threatened with “virginity testing”.

On 24 July 2018, eight additional charges including crimes against the state were added to their case files. There has been no explanation as to the basis for the charges; however the trumped-up charges appear to be motivated by Omer’s activism.[14]

Authorities charged and sentenced to death 19 year old Noura Hussien for the murder of her husband in self-defense after he attempted to rape her for the second time alongside three other men.[15] The case raised serious concerns about Sudan’s imposition of the death penalty and its gender discriminatory laws that allow forced and early marriage, marital rape and weak victim protection measures, placing victims at risk of prosecution.[16] The death sentence was later reversed and Ms. Hussein re-sentenced to five years imprisonment and the payment of dia (blood money) to her husband’s family.

Freedom of religion or belief continues to be restricted in Sudan. On 11 February 2018, authorities demolished a Sudanese Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum North, without notice.[17] The SPEC was one of 27 churches earmarked for demolition in an official order signed in June 2016.  In July 2017, the Ministry of Education of Khartoum State issued an order requiring Christian schools in Khartoum state to operate on Sundays and take Friday and Saturday as their weekend, restricting their ability to observe religious ceremonies on Sundays. [18]

Given the downsizing of UNAMID, and the continuing violations across the country, it is imperative that the UN Human Rights Council take stronger action to ensure continued attention to the human rights situation in Sudan. Resolutions adopted by the Council since it decided to move consideration of Sudan from its agenda item 4 to item 10 have failed to adequately reflect the situation on the ground and outline a meaningful path for accountability and human rights reforms. At its 39th session, the Council should adopt a resolution under agenda item 4 to:

  • Strengthen the special procedure mandate on Sudan by extending it as a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan under item 4, with a mandate to monitor, verify, and publicly and periodically report on violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in all parts of Sudan;
  • Publically urge the Government of Sudan to implement the recommendations made to Sudan by UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, including mechanisms mandated by the Council and the 2016 Universal Periodic Review and to provide a mid-term report to the Council on concrete measures taken to implement the recommendations made to it during its UPR that enjoy its support, and the recommendations made by the Independent Expert during his 2017 report
  • Condemn attacks targeting the civilian population and civilian objects in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, in particular looting, destruction of civilian facilities, killings and sexual violence committed by paramilitary forces and other Sudanese government forces, which has led to forced displacement of civilian populations;
  • Urge the government of Sudan to allow unfettered access by UNAMID, humanitarian agencies and concerned NGOs to all parts of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile;
  • Urge the Government to ensure accountability for excessive use of force against protesters, which caused civilian deaths during crackdowns including in 2018 in El Geneina, West Darfur and Zalingei, Central Darfur; in 2016 in El Obeid, North Kordofan and Khartoum; in 2013 in Khartoum and Wad Medani; and in 2012 in Nyala, South Darfur and Al Jazeera.
  • Condemn the continued restrictions on the media, on human rights defenders and political opponents, freedoms of association and of peaceful assembly, and the use of arbitrary detention and torture, as detailed;
  • Condemn the ongoing violations of freedom of religion and repression of individuals based on their faith;
  • Call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained by the NISS and urge the Government of Sudan to repeal the repressive National Security Act of 2010, and all other legislation which grants immunities to Government of Sudan agents and protection from criminal prosecution.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues.


  1. Act for Sudan
  2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies
  3. African Freedom Coalition
  4. African Soul, American Heart
  5. Alkarama Foundation
  6. Al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE)
  7. Amnesty International
  8. Arab Coalition for Sudan
  9. Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan
  10. Christian Solidarity Worldwide
  11. Darfur Action Group of South Carolina
  12. Darfur and Beyond
  13. Darfur Community Center of Maine, USA
  14. DefendDefenders
  15. Genocide No More — Save Darfur
  16. Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum
  17. Human Rights Watch
  18. International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
  19. Investors Against Genocide
  20. Massachusetts Coalition for Darfur
  21. National Human Rights Monitoring Organisation
  22. Never Again Coalition
  23. Nuba Mountains Advocacy Group
  24. Nubia Project
  25. NY Coalition for Sudan
  26. Stop Genocide Now
  27. Sudan Democracy First Group
  28. Sudanese Human Rights Initiative
  29. Sudan Social Development Organisation (SUDO) UK
  30. The MagkaSama Project, France
  31. The Society for Threatened Peoples

[1] ACJPS, Attacks by Sudanese government forces on civilians in Jebel Marra in South Darfur, 18 April 2018, available at:

[2] Human Rights Watch, Sudan: UN’s Planned Cuts to Darfur Mission Risk Rights Protection, 18 June 2018, available at:

[3] Ibid

[4] UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Ms. Pramila Patten Concludes Visit to Sudan and Calls for End to Culture of Denial for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, 27 February 2018, available at:

[5] ACJPS, Government allied militia gang rape a 16-year-old girl and a woman in Nertiti, Central Darfur state, 19 December 2017, available at:

[6] NHRMO, Human Rights Update: September 2017 – February 2018, available at:

[7] HRW, Don’t Be Taken in By Sudan Prisoner Release, 10 April 2018, available at:;  ACJPS, Sudan should charge or release remaining 248 individuals in prolonged detention, 16 April 2018, available at:

[8] Amnesty International, Sudan: Human rights activist arbitrarily detained and at risk of torture must be immediately released, 31 May 2018, available at:

[9] ACJPS, Two students reportedly tortured in West Kordofan state, 6 December 2017, available at:

[10] ACJPS, Urgent call for investigation into the custodial death of civilian whilst under SAF/RSF detention in East Jebel Marra, South Darfur, 24 April 2018, available at:; ACJPS, Individual dies after reportedly tortured while in NISS custody in West Kordofan,  9 March 2018, available at:

[11] ACJPS, 6 newspapers prevented from distribution and a media house faces a two-day suspension, available at: 30 November 2016,; ACJPS, UPDATE: 4 newspapers continue to face post-print censorship as Sudanese authorities repeatedly prevent the distribution of their daily print runs, 3 December 2017, available at:; CPJ, Sudan arrests journalists, confiscates papers for reporting on inflation protests, 18 January 2018, available at:

[12] In May 2018, the NISS ordered chief editors of Sudanese publications not to publish any content relating to the prevailing fuel crisis within the region. ACJPS, Violations against free press and freedom of expression in Sudan, May/June 2018, 3 July 2018, available at:

[13] Human Rights Watch, Activist faces trumped-up charges in Sudan, 27 July 2018,; Radio Dabanga, Trial of activist in ‘indecent clothing’ case adjourned, 19 December 2017,

[14] Op. cit., Human Rights Watch, Activist faces trumped-up charges in Sudan.

[15]Amnesty International, Sudan: Forcibly married, raped girl sentenced to death: Noura Hussein, 15 May 2018, available at:; ACJPS, #JusticeforNoura: Sudanese authorities should release Noura Hussein and review conviction for murder, 28 May 2018, available at:

[16] Amnesty international, Sudan: Quashing of Noura Hussein death sentence must now lead to legal reform, 26 June 2018, available at:

[17] CSW,  Sudanese Government demolishes church, 14 February 2018, available at:

[18] CSW, Protests against forced Sunday opening for schools, 11 October 2017, available at:


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US: Strengthen Targeted Sanctions on Burma

(Washington, DC) – The US Congress should adopt legislation to enhance targeted sanctions against Burmese military commanders who are implicated in serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to congressional leaders with 45 other nongovernmental and faith-based organizations.

The groups said it is “imperative” Congress address the human rights crisis in Burma. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and other rights groups have found that the atrocities against the Rohinyga amount to crimes against humanity. Important new measures to toughen targeted sanctions are pending with key congressional leaders. The legislation is needed to address the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic Rohingya and the country’s sharply deteriorating human rights situation.


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Join the Sudan Day of Action on April 24th

Join the Day of Action Campaign and tell your representative it’s the wrong time to accelerate U.S.-Sudan normalization

The United States is considering removing Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List as part of a path to a full normalization of relations with Sudan. However, moving at this time towards normalization ignores critical developments that affect core U.S. national security interests. This is the same regime that has conducted genocide against the people of Darfur, bombed and starved the populations in the Nuba Mountains, and denied millions of Sudanese citizens access to critical humanitarian aid. The regime has not fundamentally changed and continues to be led by the same leader President Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity.

On April 24th activists are coming together for a Day of Action to demand their Members of Congress speak out against Sudan’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List. We’re providing resources and materials to help activists contact their representatives. To join the campaign and contact your Member of Congress on April 24th, please sign up here:



Learn more about the Day of Action campaign here.

Civil Society Welcomes Bipartisan Legislation to Tackle Global Violence


March 15, 2018


Christy Delafield | 202.394.1712 |

Laura Strawmyer | 317.340.1085 |

WASHINGTON, DC – 35 Alliance for Peacebuilding members and partners welcome H.R. 5273, the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018, introduced by Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ted Poe (R-TX), Mike McCaul (R-TX), Adam Smith (D-WA), Bill Keating (D-MA), and Paul Cook (R-CA) in the United States House of Representatives. This timely legislation would require the U.S. government – in collaboration with global civil society – to develop a 10-year strategy to bring down current levels of global violence and better address the root causes of violence, violent conflict, and fragility that drive recurrent global crises.

Violence containment costs the global economy $14.3 trillion each year – 13% of global GDP.  This makes violence containment one of the largest industries in the world.  Violence and violent conflict, rather than natural disasters, are now the primary driver of forced displacement and migration worldwide. Yet, according to Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) data, major global donors spend roughly 1% of total overseas development assistance on peacebuilding and conflict management and 8% on politics, justice, and security. This means we’re spending just 9% of international funds addressing violence and its causes, while 91% on development challenges often caused or exacerbated by violence.

It is high time for the United States to make violence reduction and prevention more central elements of its foreign policy and assistance. The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act of 2018 applies best practices from some of the U.S. government’s most effective and renowned foreign assistance programs – notably the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Feed the Future, and Water for the World – to provide the administration the guidance, authorities, funds and flexibility it needs to better tackle violence and conflict overseas.

Below is a list of organizations that endorse this legislation. We look forward to working with Congress and the Administration to move the effort forward.

  1. Alliance for Peacebuilding
  2. American Friends Service Committee
  3. CARE
  4. Carl Wilkens Fellowship
  5. Center for Civilians in Conflict
  6. Center on Conscience & War
  7. Charity & Security Network
  8. Chemonics
  9. Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness
  10. Conference of Major Superiors of Men
  11. Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
  12. Cure Violence
  13. Educators Institute for Human Rights
  14. Friends Committee on National Legislation
  15. Global Communities
  16. Humanity United Action
  17. i-ACT
  18. International Alert
  19. International Crisis Group
  20. International Rescue Committee
  21. Jewish World Watch
  22. Karuna Center for Peacebuilding
  23. Mercy Corps
  24. National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
  25. National Latino Evangelical Coalition
  26. Pax Christi International
  27. Pax Christi USA
  28. Peace Direct
  29. PRBB Foundation
  30. SaferWorld
  31. Search for Common Ground
  32. STAND: Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
  33. Stop Genocide Now
  34. World Relief
  35. World Vision