Nigeria Military Holding Children As Boko Haram Suspects - HRW

Dapchi schoolgirls insurgency victims (File photo).
10 September 2019

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children in degrading and inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram.

In a statement by the group as a precursor to the release of a new report today, the rights defenders said many children are held without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world.

It said the 50-page report, "'They Didn't Know if I Was Alive or Dead': Military Detention of Children for Suspected Boko Haram Involvement in Northeast Nigeria," documents how Nigerian authorities were detaining children, often based on little or no evidence.

They claimed children were facing beatings, overwhelming heat, frequent hunger, and being packed tightly in their cells with hundreds of other detainees "like razorblades in a pack," as one former detainee said.

"Children are being detained in horrific conditions for years, with little or no evidence of involvement with Boko Haram, and without even being taken to court," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

He added that, "Many of these children already survived attacks by Boko Haram. The authorities' cruel treatment adds to their suffering and victimizes them further."

HRW said the Nigerian government should sign and put into effect a United Nations handover protocol to ensure the swift transfer of children apprehended by the military to child protection authorities for rehabilitation, family reunification, and community reintegration.

However, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ), through its spokesman, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu said the report was not only false but capable of undermining the joint efforts of the Armed Forces and other security agencies to restore peace in the Northeast.

He said it was an established fact that Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) indoctrinate women and children who they use as suicide bombers in the theatre of operations.

He said in the conduct of their operations, troops arrested the children while attempting to detonate explosives and provide tacit support to insurgents such as intelligence on troop's movement and deployments.

Colonel Nwachukwu said contrary to HRW's claims, the military had been managing children in the Northeast theatre as victims of war and not as suspects.

He said apprehended children were kept in secured places, where they are adequately fed, profiled and de-radicalized before their release.

Nwachukwu said this was evidently captured in the HRW's Report, where it stated that "since January 2013, Nigerian Authorities have released at least 2,200 children from detention nearly all without charge.

"This statement further attests to the fact that the children are released to appropriate authorities after de-radicalization efforts by appropriate government agencies and NGOs," he added.

He said,"the DHQ, therefore, wishes to state that no children are kept and tortured in any detention facility.

"The children caught in the act of terrorism are moved to safe facilities such as the Borno State Rehabilitation Centre in Bulunkutu, Maiduguri, and Operation Safe Corridor, where they are de-radicalized, rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

"Those whose families could not be traced are handed over to IDP Camps officials for administration," Nwachukwu said.


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