December 2019 marked the 71st anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s ratification of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Developed in the aftermath of the Second World War, the
UDHR was a landmark convention, ushering in an era of profound reflection on the rights of individuals, and
the obligations of state and international actors to protect them. Previously, the notion of state sovereignty
had been the dominant concept in the construction of norms and laws that purported to govern international
relations and global order.
The cataclysmic events of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, served to demonstrate the
limits of such a notion in restraining states and emerging violent non-state actors from bloodshed. Another
principle was needed and internationalists landed upon the oft-disregarded – yet by no means ‘new’ – idea
of rights: universal and inalienable obligations owed to every person by every person, strictly on the grounds
of person being a person. Thus, the inherent rights of individual humans gained prominence as a key guiding
principle in customary international law.
This renewed attention on human rights profoundly influenced events in intervening decades. Considerations
of human rights helped reveal the inherent instability and moral hypocrisy of European imperialism, leading to
the independence of dozens of new states across Africa and Asia. During the Cold War, human rights ideology
became embroiled in the political and ideational battles between the Communist and Capitalist powers, as
each side fought to establish its legitimacy as a defender of human rights. Rights were frequently invoked to
justify foreign involvement in proxy wars across the globe. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, multinational
missions and interventionist conflicts were conducted in the name of upholding the universal ideals of human
rights. Whilst the bipolarity of the Cold War has evaporated, a multitude of new and resurgent forces which endanger global order and threaten human flourishing have emerged. Political violence, and its attendant human misery, remain – and will continue to remain – familiar phenomena for much of the world. Human rights continue to be threatened and trampled upon by both state and n0n-state actors. The need for brave individuals and organizations to document these violations, and thereby hold wrongdoers to account for their deeds remains as urgent today as it was in 1948.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the Lake Chad Basin; the intersection of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and
Nigeria’s borders. This region, long subject to underdevelopment and political marginalization, has, since 2009,
played host to the Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram militants have committed every imaginable violation of human rights, including murder, torture, forced labour, forced recruitment (including minors), abduction, sexual violence, forced conversion and mutilation. Counterinsurgent forces, too, stand accused of widespread abuse, including extrajudicial killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and sexual violence.
The Boko Haram insurgency is the most visible conflict in a constellation of violence across West and Central
Africa. Nigeria, the epicenter of the Boko Haram conflict, also suffers from separatist militancy and organized
crime in the Niger Delta, as well as inter-communal violence between pastoralists and agriculturalists in the
Middle Belt and across its northern states. In addition to the threat from Boko Haram, Cameroon has an armed separatist movement in southern, Anglophone, areas, while Chad only recently emerged from civil war in 2010, and continues to be affected by flashpoint violence on its Sudanese and Libyan frontiers. Niger faces additional Islamist threats, along its border with Mali and Burkina Faso, posed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara.
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