FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

The Chibok Girls Abducted One Year Ago Are Just a Small Percentage of Boko Haram's Victims

The world has marked the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of 276 students by Boko Haram, as Amnesty International published a report showing that the group are using girls as fighters and sexual slaves.
April 14, 2015, 6:08pm
Photo by Sunday Alamba/AP

There are events worldwide today to mark one year since the Islamist militant group Boko Haram launched a midnight ambush on a school in Chibok, northern Nigeria, and kidnapped 276 girls from their dormitories.

This comes as Amnesty International has published what they say is evidence that the group have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity — along with testimonies suggesting the militant group is using women and girls as fighters and sexual slaves.

Advertisement

A Tuesday procession in Nigerian capital Abuja will include 219 girls — one for each student that is still missing. Other events are expected in countries including the US, UK, and France. In New York City, the Empire State Building will be illuminated in purple and red — the colors of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign — during the hours the girls were taken.

Amnesty's report, released on Tuesday and titled "Our Job is to Shoot, Slaughter and Kill," emphasizes that the Chibok girls are not the only ones to have suffered from grave abuses committed by the group over the past few years.

"Through a campaign of almost daily killings, bombings, abductions, looting, and burning, Boko Haram has crippled normal life in northeast Nigeria," the report reads. "Towns and villages have been pillaged. Schools, churches, mosques, and other public buildings have been attacked and destroyed."

Related: The girls who escaped: One year after the Boko Haram kidnapping, some Chibok schoolgirls have left Nigeria. Read more here.

The investigation — which contains information gleaned from interviews with more than 180 victims and eyewitnesses, as well as military sources and local officials — documents life under Boko Haram control. It claims that men of fighting age, along with unmarried women and girls, were taken away to militant camps. Some of the women were forced into marriages and many have been raped. Women are forced to remain indoors, while public flogging and executions were common methods of punishment.

Advertisement

The report said that Boko Haram fighters targeted certain groups to murder. "Fighters killed politicians, civil servants, teachers, health workers, and traditional leaders because of their relationship with secular authority." Christians in captured territories were often given the option of conversion or death.

A 15-year-old named Mustapha Saleh described participating in a stoning when 10 men and women were executed for committing adultery. Mustapha said the civilians were buried in the ground, before the townsfolk were ordered to throw rocks at their heads until they died.

Amnesty also said that they have received information that Boko Haram has been recruiting children under 15 years of age.

A UNICEF spokesman told VICE News that he had also received information that suggested that children had become "weapons" as well as "targets" in this conflict — and added that he has concerns that other active militant groups in the region are doing the same.

Related: "No one knows what Nigeria's government is doing to rescue our kidnapped schoolgirls." Read more here.

Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International, told VICE News that they had problems in conducting research for the report.

"It can be difficult to get figures," he said. "We try to speak to as many witnesses as we can, and work with people from the community to get lists of people who have been abducted and killed during attacks. We tend to be as conservative as possible."

Advertisement

Eyre added: "Even before the abductions of the Chibok girls, there was a pattern of abducting young women and also boys — it's something they'd been doing and something they've continued after.

"In some cases it's just Boko Haram abducting one or two people, stealing them from their village or abducting them as they move on the roads between places. The abductions from Chibok caught the world's attention because it was so many young girls and women, but this has happened before."

Eyre said that he had heard of cases where women and girls were taken to a prison and forced to remain there until they "pledged allegiance" to Boko Haram.

"In areas under Boko Haram control, Boko Haram is imposing a strict set of rules," he told VICE News. "Men are forced to grow their beards and wear special clothing. Women aren't allowed to walk around freely during the daytime."

Eyre said that a 19-year-old girl called Aisha had told Amnesty about being trained in using firearms and explosive devices.

"She was taken on an operation with fighters to attack her own hometown." There, he said, "she was raped on several occasions, including on one occasion by six armed men."

Boko Haram has abducted at least 2,000 people — in kidnappings documented as early as 2009. In 2014 they killed at least 4,000 civilians, while a further 1,500 were slaughtered in the first few months of 2015.

Outgoing Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan was criticized heavily for his reaction to the Chibok kidnappings. He told the BBC on Tuesday: "We have not seen dead girls so that is good news; we believe they are still alive. I believe we will get them." Jonathan said that initially there were "trails" that could have been used to locate the students, but with the passing of time "you no longer have that trail."

Advertisement

Jonathan — whose government didn't admit that the girls were missing for several weeks — is still refusing to note exactly how many girls were taken, stating on Tuesday that the number was "some 200."

"There is so much mix-up of the stories," he said, when pushed further on the issue.

Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch, told VICE News that she felt the pressure around the disappearance has to continue — even though progress has been almost non-existent.

"I think until there is solid proof that the girls are no more, we must continue to hope for their release or rescue," she said. "For now, none of the conjectures about their fate is supported by evidence so I believe that they are still very much alive."

Segun added: "It is important for the media and international community to sustain the pressure on the Nigerian government and the regional forces supporting its fight against Boko Haram to commit to making the protection and rescue of all abductees and other civilians trapped behind Boko Haram lines a major part of the ongoing military operations."

The #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign was launched in the weeks following the abduction.

In an email to VICE News, Ibrahim Abdullah, a Nigerian lawyer who was one of the instigators of the campaign said: "It's sad and disturbing that we have to see an anniversary of the abduction of #OurGirls who were abducted by the brutal #BokoHaram exactly one year ago. I never contemplated that #OurGirls will remain in the custody of #BokoHaram this long. But I am optimistic that the incoming government of General Muhammadu Buhari, which campaigned on a focal point of security, will not only #BringBackOurGirls but will also #StopBokoHaram."

Advertisement

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also released a statement, saying: "We must never forget the kidnapped Chibok girls, and I will not stop calling for their immediate release and their safe return to their families."

He added: "I also remain deeply concerned by the group's repeated and cowardly attacks targeting schools, in grave violation of international humanitarian law. Going to school should not have to be an act of bravery."

Ban cautioned, however: "The legitimate response to Boko Haram's attacks must be fully consistent with international law and not create additional risks for the protection of children. On this day, I reaffirm my support to the governments and peoples of the region in the fight against Boko Haram. I stand in solidarity with the families of all abductees, especially children, their communities and society at large."

In February, former Nigerian president and military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo said that the failure to rescue the Chibok girls was a result of weak leadership. "Those girls, you can never have them together again," he said. "For decades to come, the story of Chibok girls is filtering out. Either one of them will come out after producing children or whatever, and tell their whole story. But what is important is that we must not forget and we must also make sure that it does not happen again."

Related: The war against Boko Haram (full length). Watch here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

VICE News's Samuel Oakford contributed to this report.