On the afternoon of Sunday March 21st, 2021, at least 137 civilians, including 22 children, were confirmed to be killed in a string of violent attacks on several villages in Niger, near the Malian border. The perpetrators, a group of gunmen riding on motorcycles, raided the villages of Intazayene, Bakorat, and Wistane. According to Al Jazeera, a local official confirmed that the gunmen had shot “at everything which moved”. Initial reports confirmed the death toll to be at least 60, later on the toll would be confirmed to have increased to at least 137. This attack is believed to be among the deadliest attack the nation has seen in recent years, surpassing another attack that took place the week prior on March 15th, which was believed to have killed at least 58 civilians. As of date, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
This attack comes in the wake of a series of violent attacks that have been plaguing areas in the Sahel Region of Africa, which includes the bordering countries of Burkina Faso and Mali. According to The Economist, the groups involved have been both jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and ethnic militia groups within the region. The crisis is believed to have originated in northern Mali in 2011, after a series of violent attacks forced civilians to flee their homes. Since then the attacks have expanded to other regions in the Sahel, with almost 3 million people believed to be displaced as a result of the violence. The European Union, France and the United Nations have since deployed peacekeeping forces to these areas to assist in the crises.
Some have brought in to question the effectiveness of the Nigerien government’s response to the attacks. CNN reports Abou Oumarou, former regional governor and colonel, said regarding the recent attacks, “How is it that 200 people can move around on motorcycles and no one is aware?” Oumarou also went on to say, “These forces need to surround these zones so that we know when there is a massive movement.”
President Mohamed Bazoum has vowed to fight insurrection in the nation and deployed military reinforcements to the region after the attacks on March 15th. In response to the massacre that took place on Sunday, Zakaria Abdourahamane, Nigerien government spokesman, issued a statement in which he assures the public that the government is committed to doing everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice and fight terrorism in the country. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, has also released a statement through his spokesperson condemning the violent terror attacks in Niger. Guterres also urges countries in the Sahel regions to continue their efforts to combat the current outbreak of violence.
Niger and many other counties in the Sahel are among the poorest nations in the world, and are now considered to be at the forefront of a growing displaced persons crisis. Many of these displaced citizens are currently struggling to find access to aid at this time, and the most affected are women, children and disabled people who cannot escape as easily as others. These massacres must be properly addressed not only by African leaders, but also international organizations in order to effectively protect the citizens of the Sahel region. We can only hope for peace for the victims in this tragedy, and that the survivors can be provided with the resources they need in what can only be described as a horrific and grave miscarriage of justice and human rights.