There is a general expectation that a country’s military and police forces will take active steps to protect both individuals and communities from violence. Especially where mass atrocities are perpetrated against them by mobs or militia. There might be circumstances where is it not possible to address the situation quick enough to be effective in its prevention. Where the threat emerges very quickly for example or where there are no red flags. Where the violence is systemic, it is not acceptable for neither military or police forces to fail the persecuted individuals or to withdraw completely, leaving them unprotected.
A 2017 piece alleges that the withdrawal of Peshmerga from Sinjar left Yazidis unprotected and exposed to attack by Daesh. It had catastrophic consequences for the entire community and it is yet to be investigated despite recommendations from the International Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syria Arab Republic (IICoISAR) in its report ‘They came to destroy.’ The piece also discusses a case involving the Dutch army who failed to protect people in the safe zone in Srebrenica. For that failure, they were held partially responsible for the fate of the victims of the resulting genocide. Indeed, an undertaking to protect and serve, especially when given to members of vulnerable communities, is a serious one and should result in legal consequences if broken.
As if those examples were not enough to portray the need to protect civilians from violence and mass atrocities, especially where they cannot protect themselves, similar reports are currently emerging from Nigeria. While it is normally Boko Haram which hits the headlines for its brutal attacks in the north of the country, the reports are instead emanating from the Middle Belt where farmers are under attack from Fulani herdsmen.
The situation in the Middle Belt appears to be spiraling out of control with weekly reports of slaughtered farmers. The atrocities are presented as a clash over grazing land. However, there is an underlying concern that it is religious in nature with the Fulani herdsmen attacking Christians farmers and other minorities who do not follow their ideology.
Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project reported that “from January through June 2018, Fulani attacks against civilians occurred at a rate 47.5% higher than those of Boko Haram. Moreover, Fulani attacks throughout 2018 have spanned the geographic width of the country, whereas Boko Haram attacks are mostly focused eastern Borno and the north-east Adamawa States.” This suggests that the situation is deteriorating and Fulani herdsmen have been allowed to act with impunity. One of the more recent attacks (on June 23, 2018) left more than 200 dead. In response, the Nigerian military reportedly deployed 300 soldiers and seven helicopter gunships to Benue, Plateau and Taraba States. This action came a few days too late.