Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 500 women and girls in recent years and is increasing the use of abductions, rape, forced labor, and marriage as weapons of war, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.
New York-based HRW criticized the Nigerian government for what it called the “horrific vulnerability” of all females in the northeast, where the extremist group operates. The report, released today, came as 30 more boys and girls in the state of Borno were kidnapped by Boko Haram, allegedly to be used as child soldiers, according to a CNN report.
The Borno abductions are the second mass kidnapping since the government announced Oct. 17 that it was negotiating a cease-fire with Boko Haram that would involve the release of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last spring in the town of Chibok. Yet just days after the announcement, Boko Haram insurgents took at least 25 women and girls, dashing hopes of a deal with the government. Talks took place secretly in Chad, according to Reuters.
Today's 63-page report by HRW is based on interviews with 46 victims and witnesses of Boko Haram abductions, including several young women from Chibok who escaped after being grabbed at their dormitory in April. The incident shocked the world and led to the Bring Back our Girls movement.
The report includes testimony from a number of cases, such as this one:
A 19-year-old secondary school student in Konduga, Borno State, told Human Rights Watch that when armed Boko Haram insurgents stopped the vehicle in which she and five other female students were traveling home from school in January, one of the insurgents shouted, "Aha! These are the people we are looking for. So you are the ones with strong heads who insist on attending school when we have said ‘boko’ is ‘haram.’ We will kill you here today."
'The students were held in the insurgents’ camp deep within the 518-square-kilometer Sambisa forest for two days. They were released after they pretended to be Muslims and pledged never to return to school.
Since 2009, Boko Haram has killed more than 7,000 civilians, according to HRW. And the pace has quickened: Some 4,000 of those killings have taken place in the past year, and more than 2,000 resulted from 95 attacks in the first six months of 2014.
Last year, President Goodluck Jonathan declared an emergency in three northeast states. The Nigerian Army went into the main cities with considerable force at the outset of the emergency, but has made little headway against the group’s guerrilla tactics and its ruthless and indiscriminate killing sprees against civilians of every age and stripe – young students, moderate Muslims, Christians, elderly, and females.
HRW and other watchdogs have previously documented many cases where villagers were warned by Boko Haram insurgents they were coming. When villagers informed the Army or police, the soldiers or police would often disappear.
Despite the doctrinal incoherency of Boko Haram, whose members range from local thugs and unemployed gang members to madrassa students, it has repeated two clear statements of its intent in the past several years: The first is to create an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria’s northeast. The second is to undermine the Jonathan government, which the group says has failed northern Nigeria's poor and impoverished Muslims. National elections in Nigeria are due early next year.
HRW says an adequate response to the needs of victims is lacking. The government aided 57 of the Chibok students who escaped, partly using funds provided by NGOs and foreign governments.
[But] the funds … appear not to have widely benefitted the many other victims of Boko Haram abuses. None of the other women and girls interviewed by HRW had received or was aware of any government-supported mental health or medical care. Many fear discussing the trauma they endured.
‘The survivors of Boko Haram’s violence should not be shamed and frightened into silence,’ [says Africa director of HRW Daniel] Bekele. ‘It is Boko Haram that should be ashamed of the abuses they commit against women and girls in their extreme interpretation of religious text.’