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Nigeria: One year on, UN and African experts call for decisive steps to bring back abducted children

GENEVA (13 April 2015) – A group of United Nations and African human rights experts* deplored the continued captivity of girls abducted one year ago in Chibok, and called on the Boko Haram armed group to immediately release them as well as the numerous other children who have since been captured in Nigeria.

“In the absence of progress in the past year, we urge the Nigerian Government to swiftly take all necessary measures to locate the children, ensure their safe return and recovery, and provide them with adequate assistance and protection,” the experts said speaking ahead of the abduction anniversary. “At the same time, Nigeria must hold the perpetrators accountable, while respecting international human rights norms and standards.”

On 14 April one year ago, 276 girls were abducted at gunpoint from their secondary school during a violent raid by Boko Haram in the village of Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria. In a public statement, the group’s leaders threatened to sell the girls and turn them into sexual slaves. To date, only 57 girls have reportedly managed to escape.

During the last year and a half, Boko Haram has systematically abducted hundreds of civilians, including school girls, women, religious minorities and ethnic groups, targeting in particular Christian communities. Many boys have also been taken and forcibly recruited by the armed group.

The reported kidnappings happened in villages and towns across Borno State such as Konduga in February 2014, where 20 girls were taken, Wala and Warabe in April and May 2014, where 19 girls and women were abducted, Gumsuri in December 2014, where up to a 100 girls and women disappeared, and Damasak in March 2015, where several hundred children are unaccounted for.

“We strongly condemn the reported use of abducted children as suicide bombers by Boko Haram, as well as the cold blooded assassinations of enslaved girls by retreating Boko Haram fighters,” the experts said, while noting with further dismay credible reports of forcibly enrolled child soldiers being used as cannon fodder.

“Abducted children, with many having been forced to convert, suffer horrifying abuse during their captivity ranging from forced labour to forced marriage, rape, slavery, trafficking, torture and killings,” they warned. “Forced marriages and subsequent rapes of girls as well as sexual slavery could amount to crimes against humanity.”

The UN and African human rights experts stressed that “Boko Haram must immediately stop these abhorrent and heinous crimes.”

“The current impunity that members of Boko Haram enjoy has emboldened them and given them a license to continue committing these unspeakable crimes, which result in systematic violations of human rights,” they said. “We urge the Nigerian authorities to strengthen efforts, consistent with human rights standards, to protect its people, including children.”

“We also urge African States and the international community to extend their support to the authorities and to strengthen their cooperation in order to adopt a global strategy for a durable solution for the protection of children and human rights in Nigeria,” they stated.

The experts added that greater protection must be given to schools and dormitories where children are at risk of attacks by Boko Haram, in order to ensure that children, in particular girls, can exercise their right to education.

“We call on the authorities to adopt the appropriate framework to establish assistance and rehabilitation programmes for all child victims who have managed to escape and assist them in seeking redress,” they said.

The group of international and regional human rights experts welcomed the peaceful outcome of the elections of 28 March and pressed the new authorities to act diligently and with determination for the release of all the abducted children, including the girls from Chibok. “All efforts should also be concentrated on preventing the escalation of religious and gender based violence,” they stressed.

(*) The experts: Ms. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Ms. Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Ms. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Ms. Emna Aouij, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; and Ms. Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women in Africa of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

The Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women in Africa was established by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, The Gambia, in April 1998, in recognition of the need to place particular emphasis on the problems and rights specific to women in Africa. It is therefore one of the oldest mechanisms of the Commission. Learn more, visit: http://www.achpr.org/mechanisms/rights-of-women/

For further information and media requests, please contact Ms. Nekane Lavín (+41 22 917 94 02 / nlavin@ohchr.org) or write to srsaleofchildren@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts in Geneva:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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