Civilians targeted and women ‘raped in exchange for food’ says Amnesty
Amnesty International, in a report, They betrayed us”, released on Wednesday 24 May, has once again indicted the Nigerian army and its Joint Task Force fighting Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group of massive human rights abuses in it campaign saying soldiers were “indiscriminately killing those who remained in their homes” when they
attacked villages controlled by Boko Haram Islamists. Many of these refugees come from the predominantly Christians villages and communities destroyed by Boko Haram Islamist when they declared a Caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria in 2014.
The report says women and girls were “forced to become ‘girlfriends’ of military in exchange for humanitarian assistance” and demanded that “UK must urgently review support to the Nigerian military.” Amnesty added that Britain must ensure that “any training it’s providing hasn’t contributed to the vile abuses and violations currently taking place in north-east Nigeria” Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty UK’s Military, Security and Policing Programme Director, said.
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, when she met with President Buhari, in April, at Downing Street, had said London has a “‘close and longstanding’ defence and security cooperation.”
The report, which is “the result of a two-year investigation and interviews with more than 250 people affected by the critical situation in north-east Nigeria,” also said that “Women told Amnesty how they have been raped in exchange for food, and the report contains evidence that thousands of people, including children, have starved to death in the camps in Borno state since 2015.”
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said “It is absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military. “Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”
“Sex in these highly coercive circumstances is always rape, even when physical force is not used, and Nigerian soldiers and Civilian JTF members have been getting away with it. They act like they don’t risk sanction, but the perpetrators and their superiors who have allowed this to go unchallenged have committed crimes under international law and must be held to account.” Osai Ojigho added.
The report gave witness accounts of starvation at the satellite camps in Dikwa town in mid-2017 who faced hunger, sickness and deaths within the camps. “Yanna (not her real name), who arrived in Dikwa in late-2017 and lived in Fulatari camp, told Amnesty: “People are dying, [always there is a] burial, burial, burial. I was thinking maybe one day it will be my own.” The report said.
The Amnesty report said “in Bama Hospital camp alone during this time, 15 to 30 people died each day from hunger and sickness during these months. Satellite images, showing how the graveyard inside the camp expanded quickly during this time, confirm their testimonies. There were also daily deaths in other satellite camps such as those in Banki and Dikwa.”
Amnesty said it received five reports about sexual violence in Giwa barracks, the military base in Maiduguri, while seven women said they gave birth inside their dirty, overcrowded cells without any medical assistance. At least 32 babies and children, and five women, have died in detention since 2016.
Osai Ojigho said, “The detention of women and girls on the basis that they were allegedly married to Boko Haram members is unlawful under international human rights law and Nigerian law and is discriminatory.”
Responding to the report, Nigerian Government said “the report is inherently battling with credibility and falling vehemently short of evidential narration.”
Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, in a statement said, “In some breath, the report seemed like the one in 2015, and the one in 2016, and the one after that year, the same things being recycled again and again.” He noted that the report “ignores the fact of the existing mechanisms put in place by the military, as a self-correcting step and the high-level committee constituted by the Presidency to examine any such claims.”
Acting Director, Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. John Agim, called Amnesty’s claims “false report” which he said was “capable of derailing the good work being done by Nigeria’s patriotic and selfless soldiers.” Agim said “this malicious trend by AI is becoming a frequent ritual and it is rather unfortunate. In times like this, Amnesty International is expected to apply the natural law of liaison by working with security agencies as partners.”
A street protest by a ‘Civil Rights Group’, at Amnesty’s office in Abuja followed the report on Wednesday, with the protester saying Amnesty was plotting to “destabilise Nigeria.” Danesi Momoh, the National Convener of the Civil Rights Groups, organiser of the protest, claims that in addition to Amnesty’s report, “Several patriotic groups had only recently raised alarm that UNICEF is coordinating other international NGOs for evidence shopping as part of a major shift to start accusing the Federal Government and the military of sexual violence. This plot was being executed by UNICEF staff in conjunction with others under a purpose vehicle, Protection From Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Nigeria, with the mandate to tarnish authorities with alleged sexual crimes. Amnesty International has simply resumed the assignment it earlier handed over to PSEA and is now calling these agents of instability from PSEA its researchers.” The group accused Amnesty and UNICEF of being
“given quotas on the number of alleged sexual abuse/sexual exploitation cases to file towards the realization of these lies packaged as a report.” Momoh said.
“The decision of Amnesty International to only base its so-called report on 2015-2018 is suspect and confirms that whoever is financing its PSYOP in Nigeria is angry that the tide was turned against their Boko Haram agents since the current political and military leadership took over the helms of affairs in 2015. It is sickening that Amnesty International can now be using its report to praise the dark era when cities as far south as Kogi state were under siege from Boko Haram terrorists.” Momoh pointed out. He accused Amnesty of a “long-established tradition of compulsive lying.”
Nigeria has recently been added to the UK’s National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security, affirming the fact that the Nigerian security forces have been accused of sexual abuse.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.