Human Rights Watch has released a report accusing Nigeria’s police and troops of raping women and girls displaced by conflict in the northeast. An Islamist campaign by Boko Haram has driven more than two million people from their homes and killed some 15,000 in the region. Abuses are also said to have been carried out by camp leaders and local militias meant to help the military fight the insurgents.
MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA (REUTERS) – Nigerian soldiers and policemen have raped and sexually abused women and girls fleeing the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report they released on Monday (October 31).
Forty-three cases of “sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation” were documented in July, HRW said.
The women and girls were housed at seven camps in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, where Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency began.
That insurgency has displaced more than two million people and killed some 15,000 in Nigeria’s northeast.
The rights group said it was also told of abuse carried out by camp leaders and members of security groups set up to help the military fight the insurgents.
Mausi Segun is a senior researcher, at Human Rights Watch Nigeria.
“Because of their fear of repercussions either based out of a direct threat from the perpetrator or just the fear, like one of them said “they are all the same. When I reported they did nothing, I reported to the police, they didn’t do anything because they all work together.” So the constant fear that if they reported something bad will happen to them or they could… one of them said “he told me that he would kill me if I talk about this to anyone.” This was a sixteen year old girl. So for many, the fear of repercussions stops them from reporting, when they do report, nothing whatsoever happens to their abusers,” she said.
Four people told HRW they were drugged and raped. Thirty seven said they had been coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
A 17-year-old girl said she was raped by a policeman who approached her in a camp.
Another girl – a 16-year-old who fled an attack on Baga, near Lake Chad, last year – said she was drugged and raped in May 2015 by a community security group member in charge of distributing aid in the camp.
Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into allegations by the rights group; instructing the inspector general of police and the state governors of the affected states to immediately commence investigations into the issue.
General Rabe Abubakar, the deputy director of information in Nigeria’s army says the report is not entirely accurate.
“Most of these accusations if not all, honestly speaking they are just ah… hold no water and are unfounded. However we are not saints okay? Wherever you put millions of people in one place or organizations or even hundreds of thousands of people, you do not expect them to behave you know, as expected. There could be few who could, one or two who could try his luck to do otherwise,” he said.
“We cannot prove anything, we have made allegations. The response from the president is the right response, investigate. This is exactly what we asked them to do we are not a court of law; we can’t even bring the victims to us to say prove your case to us. They tell us what has happened to them, let the authorities, it is not our responsibility and it is not their responsibility alone to protect themselves. Let those who are keeping them within those camps who have responsibility to manage and control the camps and organize the camps take responsibility by investigating these allegations,” said Segun.
Aid workers and soldiers have gained access to Boko Haram’s former northeastern strongholds, revealing famine-like conditions which UNICEF says could kill 75,000 children over the next year if they do not receive aid.
Nigeria’s army says it wants victims to cooperate with them and report cases of abuse to relevant authorities.
“We are not in any way condoning this sort of thing and we are taking it extremely serious when this sort of thing is discovered okay? But however what we want, what we expected them to do or any other person since we are in open contact with them nothing stops them from writing to us, raise observations and wait and see what we would do. We have done it you know because we have provision to deal with such cases and any other cases for that matter okay? Why go to the media without consulting the main person or the main organization that is affected.” said Abubakar.
Boko Haram, which controlled a swathe of land in the northeast last year, has largely been pushed back to its base in the northeast’s vast Sambisa forest in the last few months.