*As Rights groups ask FG to use report to prevent recurrence
By Abdulwahab Abdulah
ABUJA—Amnesty International has in its latest report highlighted sordid tales of how women and girls displaced by insurgency in the North East were raped by soldiers and Civilian Joint Task Force, JTF.
This is even as human rights groups, including Campaign for Human Rights, CHR, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, CISLAC, and Nigeria Action for Youths, NAY, urged the Federal Government to take the report in good faith and use it to prevent a recurrence, rather that dismissing it.
The report released yesterday by the Manager, Amnesty International, Nigeria, Isa Sanusi, revealed how the military and civilian JTF separated women from their husbands and confined them to remote ”satellite camps” where they were raped, sometimes in exchange for food.
“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,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
The report said that in some cases, the abuse appeared to be part of a pattern of persecution of anyone perceived to have a connection to Boko Haram, adding that women reported being beaten and called “Boko Haram wives” by the security officials when they complained about their treatment.
It noted that as the military recovered territory from Boko Haram in 2015, it ordered people living in rural villages to the satellite camps, in some cases indiscriminately killing those who remained in their homes, adding that hundreds of thousands of people fled or were forced from these areas.
The report highlighted how scores of women described how soldiers and Civilian JTF members used force and threats to rape them in satellite camps, including taking advantage of hunger to coerce them to become their “girlfriends”, which involved being available for sex regularly.
According to the report, 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 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, and we have to be husband and wife,” the report stated.
It stated that 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.
”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. Women reported they were too afraid to reject demands for sex.
“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,” said Osai Ojigho.
The report also revealed that people confined in the satellite camps faced an acute food shortage from early 2015 until mid-2016, when humanitarian assistance was increased.
It stated further: ”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.
“Confining people to camps without enough food, despite the fact that those administering the camps knew the conditions were leading to deaths, violates human rights and international humanitarian law. Those who allowed this to happen may be guilty of murder.”
Amnesty International’s research further revealed that hundreds of women along with their children had been held in the notorious Giwa Barracks detention centre since 2015, adding that while most have been released, an unknown number remained in military detention.
According to the report, many of those detained since 2015 have been victims of abductions or forced marriages by Boko Haram who were detained by the military for being so-called “Boko Haram wives” instead of being rescued.
It said 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 report said.
The report also noted that since 2015, various NGOs and humanitarian organizations have reported sexual violence and deaths in camps for internally displaced people in North East. It noted that while the authorities frequently promised to investigate such reports, there had been no tangible action to address the problem and no one appeared to have been brought to justice.
”It is not always clear if these investigations were carried out as no reports have been made public.
”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.
“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,” the report said.
Both the Presidency and Defence Headquarters have since reacted to report, describing it as not only false but also a calculated attempt to destabilise the country.
The military has degenerated in Nigeria —Campaign for Human Rights
Reacting to the report, Comrade Ayodele Akele of Campaign for Human Right, described the development as “pathetic and unfortunate.”
”He said: The report is authentic. Amnesty International has a long credible record we cannot pretend about. It’s a fact that we no longer have the military we used to know. There is no difference between them and the police in Nigeria and it’s so unfortunate and pathetic that our President is not doing anything about it.
”The military has degenerated into what Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, retd, called them. He has said it all. The military cannot be relied on for protection. How many times have they come out to announce to us of killing Boko Haram leader, Shekau?
” This government is not just serious. If we don’t have organizations as Amnesty International, the country is doomed. It’s impunity, upon impunity in this country. I endorse the report, they are the eyes and voices of Nigerians.”
Anybody denying doesnot mean well for Nigeria — CISLAC
In his reaction, Awwal Ibrahim-Rafsanjani, Executive Director of CISLAC, said: “This report coming from Amnesty International confirms the reports from various civil societies organizations and the National Human Rights Commission in Nigeria which expressed concern over human rights abuses and denial of rights in the IDPs.
”This was to show how the victims have been sexually abused and treated badly by security agencies in Nigeria. The report is shedding light on such crimes from the victims directly. This is not good for Nigeria and it shows that the security agents are to protect the victims rather than deny them their rights. Anybody who is denying this does not mean well for Nigeria.
Govt should use it to prevent future occurrences —NAY
Similarly, Olalekan Dada, Executive director, Nigeria Action for Youths, said: “Amnesty International reports exposed what had been happening in the country, not only at the IDP camps, over the years. It was like a parable of someone who is suppose to be behind you in time of need denying you your inalienable rights. I hope the government, rather than defending the military, would examine the reports holistically to prevent future occurrences.”