Boko Haram, an extremist militant organisation, has long tormented north-east Nigeria, subjecting people to torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and the killing of hundreds of people.
A new Amnesty International report reveals that the Nigerian Army and local vigilante groups have also terrorised local civilian populations.
The conflict with Boko Haram has left over 30,000 dead and has forced approximately 1.8 million people out of their homes since its escalation which began in 2009. It has become a murky conflict involving multiple actors with vested interests: Boko Haram, the Nigerian Armed Forces and a Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), a local vigilante group based in Borno are all engaged in the violence.
Since 2015, Nigeria’s military have forcibly relocated rural populations in the north-east from their homes to the nearest recaptured government town. The military have conducted screening on everyone waiting to enter these satellite camps, which has resulted in mass detainments of men suspected of being Boko Haram members. Consequently, women, children and the elderly constitute the majority of those living in the camps.
The Amnesty report titled ‘They Betrayed Us’ claims that Nigerian soldiers have raped women and girls who managed to escape the clutches of Boko Haram. Nine came forward to detail their experiences of sexual abuse for the report.
According to the testimonies, Nigerian troops separate women from their husbands in order to sexually abuse them. The women claim that they were raped if they refused to have sex with soldiers in exchange for food. Other women claimed they were cornered and abused while walking alone to collect water. The report also details indiscriminate killings carried out by the Nigerian military once they moved into newly surrendered areas previously occupied by Boko Haram.
Amnesty International emphasises the absence of humanitarian actors, which makes it easier for members of the Nigerian Army and Civilian JTF to commit such crimes.
Under the pseudonym Zara, one woman revealed her experience of being frequently raped by a Nigerian soldier in early 2016 to Amnesty International. The soldier was working in Bama Prison and regularly offered Zara food in exchange for becoming his ‘girlfriend’. When she refused and told him she was married, he forced her to have sex.
“The soldier told me he knows my husband and if anyone goes to Giwa barracks he’s not coming back so [I should] forget about him. When I saw him coming I’d run into the room and cover myself. He’d come and take the cover off me, then he’d take me in their vehicle outside the camp to a place to rape me. The next day he’d come and take me there by force again and repeat the same thing. I would be shouting and crying that I do not want to. He would force me all the time and keep telling me, ‘Don’t worry I’ll take care of you and give you money and I will take you to the hospital when you are sick.’”
Another woman called Kale (pseudonym) told Amnesty she was was raped on two occasions in the camp.
“There was a day [in or around April 2016], I was pregnant, and a soldier raped me. He knew I was five or six months pregnant. He said he saw me three times before. He didn’t offer me any food, he called me and I ignored him but on the third day [after I ignored him], he forced me to a room and raped me.”
These are just two of many examples outlined in the report. Amnesty condemned these actions, stating:
“Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”
In response to Amnesty’s report, the Nigerian military commented:
“These false reports, which are capable of derailing the good work being done by our patriotic and selfless soldiers, must stop.”
The Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) has denied the allegations of domestic violence and rape against women. However, the majority of accusations originate from women who are currently living in one of the 32 internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Borno state.
Allegations of abuses by members of the military are not a new phenomenon in the conflict against Boko Haram. In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented 43 accusations of rape and abuse of women against officials working in refugee camps in Maiduguri, Borno state. Ten officials were arrested in December that year, but no legal action has been taken against them.
Additionally, the International Criminal Court has verified eight possible cases of crimes against humanity that have occurred so far in the conflict against Boko Haram. While six of these pertain to the actions of Boko Haram, the remaining two are attributed to the Nigerian security forces.
Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a research and advocacy centre based in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, asserted in February this year that lasting peace in Nigeria is conditional on addressing the fact that ‘there are perpetrators and victims on many sides.’
Hassan claims the crimes allegedly committed by Nigeria’s military include extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, unlawful and inhumane detention and simple theft. Hassan gave special mention to the Knifar Movement, a group of displaced women from Bama in northern Borno state, who are currently fighting for the release of their husbands. The military claim that the husbands belong to Boko Haram, the women vehemently deny this accusation.
The Knifar Movement has published data which states that 466 people were killed by the military in Bama, and has released videos that accuse the security services and Civilian JTF of raping women and girls in government-run IDP camps.
The testimonies from rights groups, research centres, and most importantly from local women that expose the instances of rape, sexual abuse and extra-judicial killings are in stark contrast to the denial of these incidents by the military and local government agencies. Justice for victims of abuses carried out by Boko Haram, the Nigerian military and the Civilian JTF is crucial for a durable peace solution in Nigeria’s north-east. The issue is that the guarantee of justice for every victim of this conflict is becoming less and less likely.