UNICEF Condemns ‘Horrific Killings’ of Dozens in Niger

In the Tillaberi region of Niger, at least 58 civilians including six children have been brutally killed by armed men on Monday, 15 March 2021. DW News reports that the Niger government has stated assailants “intercepted four vehicles carrying passengers back from the weekly market of Banibangou to the villages of Chinedogar and Dary-Daye”. The assailants also attacked civilians who were shopping in a major market town only a few kilometres away from the Malian border. The assailants were gunmen on motorcycles and remain unidentified.

According to a local resident the raid had begun with around 20 civilians being killed from an attack on a bus. The Niger government has also reported the toll includes “58 dead, one injured, a number of grain silos and two vehicles burned and two more vehicles seized”. This barbarous act remains unclaimed by armed and terrorist groups.

On March 17th, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the killings of civilians in the Tillaberi region of Western Niger. The influential stance of UNICEF reflects profound opposition to the devastating impact of armed violence on children and their “survival, education, protection and development”. The released statement also highlights the security needs of more than 95,000 displaced population in the Tillaberi region. The continued violence and conflict in the region of Central Sahel impacts livelihoods, and access to services such as health care and education which reinforces the vulnerability of communities and especially that of children and women. The statement by UNICEF also emphasized how the COVID-19 pandemic further limits providing humanitarian aid.

These horrific killings in Niger are connected to a larger security crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region. January 2nd 2021 marks another tragic day as at least 105 civilians, including 17 children were killed in two villages in the Tillaberi region, reports the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P). The Tillaberi region is in a tri-border area where Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali borders converge and is also known as the Central Sahel region. According to Al Jazeera and DW News reports this region is well-known for Jihadist activity with frequent attacks by armed groups connected to ISIS and al-Qaeda. The security crisis in the Central Sahel region is highlighted in a report from the GCR2P. The report states that “Weak state institutions, porous borders, a climate crisis and arms proliferation have exacerbated conflict across the Central Sahel”, capturing the roots of conflict reflected through the massacre in Niger.  Further, Al Jazeera reports that violence cannot only be attributed to armed groups, the counterterrorism actions by international task forces may have also constructed favourable grounds for ethnic militias. The report by the GCR2P details “Operation Barkhane” led by a 5100 member French force to undertake a counterterrorism operation in the Central Sahel.

Also, in July 2020, further support from the European Union (EU) countries enabled the formation of another counterterrorism task force with special forces. The same GCR2P report highlights that it is imperative to “ensure that their [Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger governments and international forces] efforts do not further exacerbate inter-communal tensions and distrust in state authority”. The prolonged violence that brutally murder civilians including children accentuates the urgent need for peace agreements and international collaboration to pursuit harmony.

Continued violence can deprive human rights and threaten accessing of social services for innocent civilians. Infringing fundamental rights of humans should be condemned and steps towards global peace should be encouraged to prevent brutal killings similar to the situation in Niger.