Nigerian Airforce Mistakenly Bombs Refugee Camp

A Nigerian fighter jet mistakenly bombed a refugee camp in the northeast of Nigeria killing dozens of people and wounding many more. The incident occurred on Tuesday the 17th of January in Rann, an area in the far north of Borno state where Boko Haram has recently increased attacks.

Nigeria’s air force said a fighter jet was on a mission against Boko Haram fighters when it accidentally struck the camp and killed “some” refugees and aid workers. In a statement, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the strike had killed at least 90 people and wounded 120. MSF reports that most of the dead and injured were woman and children.

MSF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were both operating at the camp at the time of the incident and both organizations suffered casualties.  The Nigerian Red Cross Society said six of its staff and volunteers were killed and another 13 wounded. MSF told media that three workers of a Cameroonian company it had contracted to provide services were also killed.

Nigerian military commander Lucky Irabor said he ordered the mission because Boko Haram fighters were allegedly gathering in the area. The general, who is the commander for anti-Boko Haram operations in northeast Nigeria, said the air force would not deliberately target civilians, and that an investigation would take place.

The war between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government has killed more than 20,000 people in the past six years as reported by Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations estimates that 2.4 million Nigerians have been internally displaced as a result of Boko Haram’s abuses and Nigerian military operations. Many of the displaced have moved to camps like that in Rann because it has been too dangerous to return home.

The incident calls into question the actions and responsibilities of the Nigerian government and military when dealing with violent insurgencies. While the Nigerian military has taken a rare step in accepting responsibility for the attack Human Rights Watch urges that Nigeria has an obligation, under international law, to ensure transparent and independent investigations into the attack; and calls for the Government to pay compensation to the victims and their families.

However, even if there is no evidence that the airstrike was a deliberate attack on the camp, which in itself would constitute a war crime, Human Rights Watch argues that the bombing, which was apparently not directed at a specific military target, was indiscriminate and therefore a violation of international humanitarian law.

But beyond the realm of international law, the incident brings to the forefront the contested belief that peace can be achieved through violence. When violence is responded to with violence it only serves to perpetuate the destructive cycle. And in this case, it is the innocent Nigerian civilians who will continue to pay the high price of the so-called, unavoidable “costs of war”.