The Nigerian chapter of Amnesty International, an international human rights activist group, has accused men of the Nigerian Army and the Joint Task Force (JTF) of raping and killing women displaced by Boko Haram.
In a report, titled 'They betrayed us' and released on Thursday, the international group accused the military of separating women from their husbands, detaining them and raping them in exchange for sex.
Amnesty International said it was in had proof that thousands of people had been starved to death in the Internally Displaced Peosns camps in Borno State, north-east Nigeria, since 2015.
"This report is the result of an extensive investigation involving more than 250 interviews and covers satellite camps established by the military in seven towns in Borno state, including Bama, Banki, Rann and Dikwa. It also includes interviews with 48 women and girls released from detention and the review of video, photographic and satellite imagery,” it said.
Mrs. Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said: “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. Instead of receiving protection from the authorities, women and girls have been forced to succumb to rape in order to avoid starvation or hunger.”
The group states that the women at the camps have beaten, raped and called “Boko Haram wives” by security officials.
It said: “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. Scores of women 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.
“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," it said.
The group reported that it was told by the women that the sexual exploitation follows an organized system, as soldiers coming openly into the camp for sex and Civilian JTF members choosing the “very beautiful” women and girls to take to the soldiers outside.
Mrs. Ojigho said: “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.”
The report also said that the people at the satellite camps faced a severe food shortage when humanitarian assistance was increased from early 2015 until mid-2016. It said: “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. Satellite images, showing how the graveyard inside the camp expanded quickly during this time, confirm their testimonies. There were also daily deaths in other satellite camps such as those in Banki and Dikwa. From June 2016, the UN and other humanitarian agencies scaled up assistance in the satellite camps. Despite this, many women reported continued barriers to accessing adequate food, exacerbated by restrictions on their ability to leave the camps.
“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. Yanna (not her real name), who arrived in Dikwa in late-2017 and lived in Fulatari camp, told Amnesty International: 'People are dying, [always there is a] burial, burial, burial. I was thinking maybe one day it will be my own.' Even where government and international NGOs distribute food, large-scale corruption has prevented many people from accessing it.”
The group described this act as an international crime against human rights and international humanitarian law.
Amnesty International also said its research has revealed that hundreds of women who had been victims of forced marriages by Boko Haram along with their children have been held in the notorious Giwa Barracks detention centre since 2015. It said these group are called “Boko Haram wives” by the military.
The report reads: “Amnesty International received five reports about sexual violence in Giwa barracks, while seven women said they gave birth inside their dirty, overcrowded cells without any medical assistance. At least 32 babies and children, and five women, have died in detention since 2016. The detention of women and girls on the basis that they were allegedly married to Boko Haram members is unlawful under international human rights law and Nigerian law, and is discriminatory.”
The group urged the Nigerian authorities to thoroughly investigate the crimes committed against humanity in these camps or make public their previous investigations. The group also urged the Nigerian authorities to urgently provide the people living in the satellite camps with adequate food, ensure the releae of those detained.