Amnesty International of the USA Inc.

06/09/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/09/2024 17:16

Nigeria: Girls Failed by Authorities After Escaping Boko Haram Captivity – New Report

Girls and young women who escaped Boko Haram captivity in north-east Nigeria faced further suffering, including sometimes in unlawful military detention, and are now receiving inadequate support as they attempt to rebuild their lives, Amnesty International said in a new report.

'Help us build our lives': Girl survivors of Boko Haram and military abuses in north-east Nigeria, investigates how girls survived trafficking and crimes against humanity by Boko Haram, including abduction, forced marriage, enslavement, and sexual violence.

After escaping Boko Haram captivity, many then experienced further abuse in prolonged and unlawful Nigerian military detention, though in recent years this practice is less widespread during the conflict that has been raging for over a decade. Those not unlawfully detained were left to fend for themselves in displacement camps amid millions of other people needing humanitarian assistance. From there, some were "reunited" with their surrendered Boko Haram "husbands" in a government-run transit camp, exposing them to the risk of continued abuse.

"These girls, many of them now young women, had their childhood stolen from them and suffered a litany of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses. They are now showing remarkable bravery as they seek to take control of their future," said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International's Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

"An enormous number of girls suffered horrific abuse in Boko Haram captivity, with many survivors then detained or neglected by their government. Now, they are sending a clear message to the Nigerian government and its international partners. They urgently need increased specialist support to rebuild their lives."

The crimes that the girls and young women endured have had long-lasting consequences that are specific to their age and gender, including health complications, access to education, the ability and desire to remarry, as well as stigma and rejection by their families and communities.

The report is based on 126 interviews, including 82 with survivors, that were conducted in-person in north-east Nigeria and remotely between 2019 and 2024. On 4 April, Amnesty International wrote to Nigerian federal and state authorities, as well as to UN offices, with its main research findings. In its response, the Nigerian military denied all allegations, said it upholds human rights in its operations, and referred to Amnesty International's "sources", which were primarily survivors, as "intrinsically unreliable". UNICEF responded confidentially.

Abduction and Sexual Violence

Boko Haram carried out widespread abductions of children during attacks on the civilian population in north-east Nigeria. At least eight girls witnessed Boko Haram kill their relatives. CA*, who was abducted aged around 13 in 2014, said: "One day, Boko Haram… came into our house. They told our father we're non-believers. They shot my father in the back of his head and the bullet came through his eyes. We started crying. They said if we don't keep quiet, they will kill my mother too."

Once abducted, most girls were then forcibly married. Child and forced marriage are common practices by Boko Haram, who generally consider girls to be "of age" to marry from early adolescence, or even before.

Girls were used in a multitude of ways as "wives", including being made to serve their "husbands" in sexual slavery and domestic servitude. At least 33 survivors of forced marriage told Amnesty International that their "husbands" raped them. HA* was a teenager when she "agreed" to be married to save her father from being killed. She told Amnesty International she was beaten when she refused her "husband", and that he frequently raped her.

A total of 28 interviewees said they bore children of sexual violence, and at least 20 were children themselves when they gave birth.

Punishments and Suicide Bombings

All those abducted were threatened into living under strict rules with severely limited freedom of movement. Any real or perceived breaches of these rules were met with physical punishment and, at times, prolonged periods of imprisonment.

Boko Haram meted out punishments publicly to instill fear and exert control. At least 31 girls interviewed were forced to watch forms of punishment that included lashings, amputations and beheadings.

GH*, now in her early 20s, spent around a decade in captivity. She was often forced to watch violent punishments, and said: "Sometimes I dream about the corpses that I saw or the stoning of the women that I saw. Once I open my eyes, I can't go back to sleep again."

Boko Haram also used girls as suicide bombers on a large scale. Between mid-2014 and 2019, the majority of Boko Haram suicide bombers were female.

Violations in Unlawful Detention

Nearly 50 girls and younger women told Amnesty International they risked their lives and the lives of their children to successfully escape Boko Haram. Many experienced harrowing journeys lasting up to 12 days, where they survived on what little food and water they could find.

Some were "rescued" by the Nigerian military or members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a state-sponsored militia, who later unlawfully detained many of them. Throughout the conflict, the Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children for prolonged periods.

Thirty-one girls and young women said they were unlawfully held in military detention for anywhere between several days and almost four years between 2015 and mid-2023, typically because of their real or perceived association to Boko Haram. Some said soldiers insulted them, calling them "Boko Haram wives" and accusing them of being responsible for killings. Several described beatings or abysmal conditions in detention which amount to torture or other ill-treatment.

NV* was around 20 when she escaped after eight years of Boko Haram captivity in 2021. She was unlawfully detained by the Nigerian military in Madagali, Adamawa State for about two months. She said: "When they [soldiers] brought food… they gave us a portion in our hand and soup in one bowl for all of us to share… As a toilet, they gave us a plastic bag."

Many young women were detained with their children. Two interviewees gave birth in government detention, while others witnessed children die.

In violation of international human rights law, no interviewees had access to a lawyer or were charged with a criminal offence. BZ* was detained as a teenager in Giwa Barracks, an infamous military detention facility in Maiduguri, from around 2017 to 2020. She said: "Nobody explained anything to us. They just brought us there and nobody told us anything."

Since 2016, most of those who had been unlawfully detained in Giwa Barracks were brought to Bulumkutu Interim Care Centre (BICC), where they were able to access some services.

'We Need Support': Aspirations after Boko Haram

Many interviewees were reunited with their families by government authorities and their partners. All are now in overpopulated internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or communities across Borno and Adamawa States. Interviewees expected and requested specialist government support, but instead felt neglected.

AV* returned from Boko Haram captivity in 2021 aged around 15, and now lives in Madagali, Adamawa State. She said: "Most people in [the] government don't care about us. We need support."

Whilst the stigma of being a "Boko Haram wife" remains a barrier to reintegration for girls and young women, the situation has improved in recent years. Many interviewees said that community members insulted them, looked at them suspiciously, and voiced fears they would kill them or infect them with diseases.

ZC*, aged around 19, lives in an IDP camp with her formerly Boko Haram "husband". She said: "They [the host community] always abuse us. They don't give us anything. We always feel we are a burden to them."

After years of oppression by Boko Haram, followed by unlawful military detention and neglect by government authorities, many interviewees valued freedom most of all. They expressed desires to become financially independent to support themselves and their families, and to enroll their children in school.

Many identified access to education as their top priority, and said they wanted to become doctors, nurses, teachers, and lawyers, or to work for non-governmental organizations. SB*, who spent around 10 years in Boko Haram captivity, said: "I want to start my life afresh. [There are] so many things I need, I don't know where to start."

Access to mental health and psychosocial support services is extremely limited throughout north-east Nigeria. The Nigerian government has an obligation to ensure that healthcare facilities and services are accessible.

"The Nigerian government has failed to uphold their human rights obligations to protect and adequately support these girls and young women," said Samira Daoud.

"Along with their international partners, the Nigerian authorities must support these girls and young women as they fully reintegrate into society by prioritizing access to healthcare, education and vocational training. They must get the assistance they need to rebuild their lives with dignity and in safety."

Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian government authorities, UN agencies and donor governments to urgently make available tailored reintegration services for these girls and young women, whilst ensuring other affected groups are not left behind. Amnesty International is also calling on the Nigerian authorities to ensure girls and young women have a meaningful alternative to being returned to their Boko Haram "husbands", and given necessary support to rebuild their lives.

Background

The non-international armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian forces has affected millions of lives in north-east Nigeria since it started more than a decade ago. The conflict has resulted in a humanitarian crisis leaving millions of people internally displaced. All sides to the conflict have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations and abuses, with specific impacts on women, children and older persons.

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