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FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA: Starving women raped by soldiers and militia who claim to be rescuing them

31 May 2018
[International Secretariat]
Region: FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA
Topic:
  • Displaced women confined to remote camps forced to become “girlfriends” of military in exchange for humanitarian assistance
  • Thousands have died of starvation due to lack of food in the camps
  • Persecution of women and girls abducted by Boko Haram

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, said Amnesty International in a new report released today.

"They betrayed us" reveals how the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) – a militia who work alongside them – have separated women from their husbands and confined them in remote “satellite camps” where they have been raped, sometimes in exchange for food. Amnesty International has collected evidence that thousands of people have starved to death in the camps in Borno state, north-east Nigeria, since 2015.

In some cases, the abuse appears to be part of a pattern of persecution of anyone perceived to have a connection to Boko Haram. Women 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.

Rape of starving women and sexual exploitation

Scores of women described how soldiers and Civilian JTF members have used force and threats to rapewomen 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.

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

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 aswomen remain desperate to access sufficient food and livelihood opportunities.

Women said the sexual exploitation follows an organized system, with soldiers openly coming into the camp for sex and Civilian JTF members choosing the “very beautiful” women and girls to take to the soldiers outside.

Deaths as a result of hunger

People confined in the satellite camps faced an acute food shortage from early 2015 until mid-2016, when humanitarian assistance was increased.

At least hundreds, and possibly thousands, died in Bama Hospital camp alone during this time. Those interviewed consistently reported that 15 to 30 people died each day from hunger and sickness during these months. There were also daily deaths in other satellite camps such as those in Banki and Dikwa.

A number of women who arrived in satellite camps in Dikwa town in mid-2017 have not received any food assistance since they arrived and described ongoing hunger, sickness and deaths within their camps.

Even where government and international NGOs distribute food, large-scale corruption has prevented many people from accessing it.

Boko Haram abuses

Women interviewed often spent months or years living under the repressive rule of Boko Haram. Some reported being forced into marriages with Boko Haram members or being flogged when caught breaking the armed group’s strict rules. Seven said they witnessed the executions of family members or neighbours after unsuccessful attempts to escape.

Time for action

Since 2015, various NGOs and humanitarian organizations have reported sexual violence and deaths in camps for internally displaced people in north-east Nigeria.

In August 2017, the Acting President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo established the Presidential Investigation Panel to review the military’s compliance with its human rights obligations. Many women testified before the Panel, which submitted its report to President Muhammadu Buhari in February 2018.

“Now is the time for President Buhari to demonstrate his frequently expressed commitment to protect the human rights of displaced people in north-east Nigeria. The only way to end these horrific violations is by ending the climate of impunity in the region and ensuring that no one can get away with rape or murder,” said Osai Ojigho.

“The Nigerian authorities must investigate – or make public their previous investigations – on war crimes and crimes against humanity in the north-east. They must also urgently ensure, with the support of donor governments, that people living in the satellite camps receive adequate food, and that those arbitrarily detained in military detention facilities are released.”

24 May 2018
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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