24 May 2018

Nigeria: Soldiers Rape Starving Women in IDP Camps, Says Amnesty International

Photo: The Guardian
Nigerian army.

A new report by Amnesty International has revealed that thousands of women and girls who survived the brutal rule of the Boko Haram armed group have since been further abused by the Nigerian security forces who claim to be rescuing them.

The rights group said in the report released wednesday that displaced women confined to remote camps have been forced to become "girlfriends" of military in exchange for humanitarian assistance, adding that thousands have died of starvation due to lack of food in the camps.

However, the presidency and the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) have disputed the report, saying it is devoid of credibility.

The Amnesty International report, which alleged persecution of women and girls abducted by Boko Haram, also stated that "they betrayed us" reveals how the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force have separated women from their husbands and confined them in remote "satellite camps" where they have been raped, sometimes in exchange for food.

The group said it had collected evidence that thousands of people have starved to death in the camps in Borno State, North-east Nigeria, since 2015.

"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," said Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho.

"Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger," Ojigho said.

The report noted that in some cases, the abuse appears to be part of a pattern of persecution of anyone perceived to have a connection to Boko Haram.

According to the report, women have reported being beaten and called "Boko Haram wives" by the security officials when they complained about their treatment.

"As Nigeria's military recovered territory from the armed group in 2015, it ordered people living in rural villages to the satellite camps, in some cases indiscriminately killing those who remained in their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled or were forced from these areas.

"The military screened everyone arriving to the satellite camps, and in some locations detained most men and boys aged between 14 and 40 as well as women who travelled unaccompanied by their husbands. The detention of so many men has left women to care for their families alone," said the report.

Amnesty International revealed that scores of women have described how soldiers and Civilian JTF members have used force and threats to rape women in satellite camps, including by taking advantage of hunger to coerce women to become their "girlfriends", which involved being available for sex on an ongoing basis.

The report added that five women told Amnesty International that they were raped in late 2015 and early 2016 in Bama Hospital camp as famine-like conditions prevailed.

"Ama (not her real name), 20, said: "They will give you food but in the night they will come back around 5pm or 6pm and they will tell you to come with them... One (Civilian JTF) man came and brought food to me. The next day he said I should take water from his place (and I went).

"He then closed the tent door behind me and raped me. He said I gave you these things, if you want them we have to be husband and wife".

"Ten others in the same camp said that they were also coerced into becoming "girlfriends" of security officials to save themselves from starvation. Most of these women had already lost children or other relatives due to lack of food, water and healthcare in the camp. The sexual exploitation continues at an alarming level as women remain desperate to access sufficient food and livelihood opportunities," Amnesty International explained in the report.

"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 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," said Ojigho.

But in a swift reaction, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said the report lacked credibility because it fell short of factual claims that could have provided the lead for investigation.

The statement which faulted the altruism of the international human rights watch findings, also dismissed as untrue the agency's submission that it contacted the Nigerian authorities on the alleged misconduct of the military and Civilian JTF, describing the AI report as a wild goose chase.

According to the statement, the report is nothing but a recycling of the agency's earlier report in 2015 and 2016, pointing out that the report also ignored the measures put in place by both the military and a presidential committee put in place to address the allegations raised by the agency in the previous years.

The statement also said the federal government remained committed to the promise it made during a joint press conference addressed by President Muhammadu Buhari with the United States President Donald Trump that it had made the promotion of human rights and protection of people's freedom its watchword.

Also, the DHQ in a statement by the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brig-Gen. John Agim, described report as a malicious trend by AI that is becoming a frequent ritual and rather unfortunate.

Agim said in times like this, Al is expected to apply the natural law of liaison by working with security agencies as partners.

According to him, this would have been the best way to ensure that insurgency and crisis are completely wiped off rather than engaging in falsehood, maligning the military and painting her in bad light at any slight opportunity.

He said: "The Nigerian military wishes to use this medium to reiterate her commitment to the citizens of our dear nation, that it will abide by all human rights regulations as entered into by Nigeria and also go the extra mile in ensuring that the territorial integrity of our nation is well protected."

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