Conference on Boko Haram and International Law: Mapping the Legal Terrain for Responding to Insurgencies and Armed Conflicts in Africa



Throughout the 1990s Africa was ravaged by insurgencies and virtually every corner of the continent was engulfed by one form of conflict or another. While the number of new conflicts declined in the late 1990s, since the early 2000s there has been a resurgence of violent conflicts with its attendant violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. In Uganda, although the Lord’s Resistance Army appears weakened, it no doubt remains a latent threat because of its cross-border activities in the turbulent Great Lakes region. Despite the successful implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the Sudan, conflict continues to smoulder in the new state of South Sudan. At the same time, long-standing insurgent groups like Al Shabab in Somalia has now been joined by different militia groups operating across North Africa (Algeria and Libya in particular) as a result of the Arab Spring. The violent action by Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic has been responsible for a deteriorating security situation since 2012 involving wide-spread human rights abuses, the use of child soldiers, rape, torture and extra-judicial killings. The M23 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ansa Dine in Mali, and Boko Haram operating in North-East Nigeria, all underscore the new wave of armed conflict spreading across Africa.

Boko Haram in Nigeria presents a unique challenge both in its tactics and the viciousness and ferocity of its attacks. It is estimated that the group is responsible for thousands of deaths since 2009. In 2013, the group slaughtered over 50 students as they slept in their dormitory in Yobe State. Besides the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Boko Haram also targets women as a group and it now kidnaps young girls and women for sexual exploitation while using rape as an instrument of warfare. The systematic pattern in its modus operandi also provides evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity and in responding to these threats, news about extra-judicial killings by Nigerian forces has also started to surface. In April 2014, Boko Haram abducted over 200 girls at a secondary school in Chibok in the North-East of Nigeria and despite promises by the Nigerian government to rescue them, their fate remains unknown. In February 2013 the group also abducted a French family of seven including four children followed in July 2014 by the abduction in Cameroon of the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister of Cameroon, which marked the third cross-border attack into Cameroon by Boko Haram.

The threat posed by these cross-border insurgencies has assumed a regional dimension and no doubt threatens to further destabilise the already volatile region. Ironically, these events are happening at a time when there is a renewed global momentum in the international protection of human rights, the prevention of mass atrocities and the protection of civilians, first, through the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and secondly, through the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect principle at the World Summit in 2005. The Boko Haram conflict has been characterised by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Criminal Court as an armed conflict of non-international character. Nigeria is a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC and as such this classification triggers certain rights and obligations for both parties to the conflict under international criminal law and international humanitarian law. However, evidence on the ground suggests that there is a flagrant disregard for these rules and civilians continue to be specifically targeted for attacks, kidnapping and sexual exploitation. The national and international responses raise several conceptual, legal, policy, institutional and operational issues which will be the subject-matter of the conference.

The objective of the conference is to bring academics, practitioners, diplomats, and military personnel together to brainstorm on the issues posed by these developments and how to respond to them. It will provide a platform for experts in international organisations, intergovernmental organisations, civil society groups and other researchers working in the field of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international relations, amongst others, to examine the range of conceptual, legal, policy, institutional and operational issues these new challenges present. Presenters will be expected to explore these issues with a view to generating new ideas on how policy makers at the level of national government, the African Union and other African RECs and the UN can better respond to these challenges. Furthermore, it is expected that amongst others things, this conference will stimulate further debate on grey areas of international law such as the classification of contemporary armed conflicts and their legal and policy implications, the limits of the application of R2P in non-international armed conflicts and the broader implications for international law.


With the focus on Boko Haram and similar insurgent movements across Africa, papers are invited on, but not limited to, the following themes:
1. Cross- border Insurgencies as New Threats and Challenges to Peace and Security in Africa

(i) The classification and typology of armed conflicts under IHL and its relevance to insurgent groups like Boko Haram and other organised armed groups with links to terrorism and/or trans-border operations;
(ii) Classification problems associated with the different objectives and the means used by the various groups;
(iii) The gap between what is expected of governments and what can be delivered.

2. Responses to insurgencies and armed conflicts in Africa

Taking into account mechanisms, scope of authority, limitations, national self-interest; and other factors, responses by the following entities, as separate themes, may form the subject-matter of papers:

(i) national governments in Africa;
(ii) the African Union and African sub-regional organisations;
(iii) the international community;

3. Protection of civilian population in insurgencies/armed conflicts

(i) Calibrating the legal obligations of national forces and organised armed groups in Africa under international law;
(ii) The limits of the application of R2P in insurgencies and non-international armed conflicts in Africa.

4. Enforcement/Accountability

(i) The United Nations, the African Union and African RECs and the enforcement of international law in Non-International Armed Conflicts in Africa;
(ii) National mechanisms for enforcement and accountability, including legal obstacles and challenges.


 Proposals for papers (abstracts) should not exceed 500 words (excluding institutional affiliation and contact details).
 Proposals should be sent as an email attachment to: John-Mark Iyi at:
 Deadline for submissions: 30 November 2014.
 Authors of selected papers will be notified in the second week of December 2014.
 Complete papers are to be submitted by 15 January 2015.


Authors of selected papers presented at the conference will be invited to contribute chapters in a peer reviewed volume to be published after the conference as proceedings of the conference.