Boko Haram’s path of destruction

Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 school girls from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria in April 2014 shocked the world. Only fifty-seven of them have since managed to escape, but not before facing cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, sexual violence and other forms of abuses.

The trail of destruction and the large scale of human rights violations by Boko Haram continue to affect millions of people living in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Boko Haram has destroyed schools, places of worship, hospitals, and markets leaving thousands of children out of school and many without access to healthcare.

According to a recent UN Human Rights Office report, human rights violations committed by Boko Haram include killings, the use of children in hostilities, rape, torture and ill-treatment. Some of these acts, given their nature and scale, if confirmed by a court of law, could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The insurgency has triggered the displacement of 2.3 million people, including 1.4 million children in the Lake Chad region.

The findings in the report were part of an investigation on Boko Haram mandated by the Human Rights Council in a resolution adopted during its 23rd Special Session in April 2015. The resolution called on the UN Human Rights Office to collect information on abuses and violations committed by the insurgency group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians. The report was based on over 350 confidential interviews by the Office, including 210 women and girls, as well as refugees and internally displaced persons. 

Since 2009, Boko Haram has exposed women and girls to severe abuses including sexual slavery, sexual violence, forced marriages to fighters, forced pregnancies and forced conversions. The report featured a testimony from a woman who said she was forced to marry when the insurgency group attacked her village. “They came back after killing the men and boys and told me that an Imam in their group would preside over the marriage ceremony,” said the victim. Another woman in Niger was abducted in Damask, Borno State, and repeatedly raped by forty men.

Children have also fallen victim to Boko Haram’s malicious acts and have been separated from their families due to the abductions. According to the report, children, between the ages of 6 and 15, were abducted in Nigeria and recounted being surrounded by guns and armoured vehicles while beaten with cables for not saying their prayers. Boys have been forced to attack their own families to demonstrate their loyalty to Boko Haram, while girls were forced to marry, clean, cook and carry equipment and weapons. Some were also used as human shields to detonate bombs. 

In Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria, the Office spoke with four children between the ages of 12 and 14, who were finally reunited with their families after escaping their abduction, reported sexual violence and exploitation. While in captivity, a 14-year-old girl from Gwoza, Nigeria told the Office she was deprived of food and water for up to two to three days and some women starved themselves in order to give food to their children.

During the presentation of the report at the Human Rights Council’s 30th session in Geneva, Switzerland, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović reflected on his visit to one of the refugee camps in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria where he met with victims, including the many women and girl victims of Boko Haram who were pregnant or have given birth to children as a result of rape by the members of Boko Haram. “I call upon relevant authorities to provide urgent and compassionate assistance to these victims,” he said.

Some of these victims are receiving assistance through government de-radicalization programmes. As of June 2015 in Nigeria, 307 women and children were enrolled in a Government run programme to access counselling, education and health care.

Several measures have also been taken by the governments of the affected States to deal with Boko Haram to address abuses and violations. “However, some of these measures raise human rights concerns, in particular with regard to arrest, detention and fair trial guarantees for persons deprived of their liberty in connection with the counter-insurgency measures,” said the report.

The report featured recommendations for Governments to take immediate steps to strengthen and expand measures to protect civilians, including in the counter-insurgency operations. Šimonović also highlighted the report’s recommendation to ensure a thorough transitional justice process, which includes remedies and reparations to the victims and accountability for the violations committed by all sides. “Reconciliation and sustainable peace cannot be achieved simply through military means without addressing the root causes of the Boko Haram movement,” Šimonović said.

29 October 2015

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