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Nigerian authorities must do everything possible to protect rights of former Boko Haram victims

11:27 | 10.08.2015 | Analytic

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10 August 2015. PenzaNews. The Nigerian authorities must do everything to protect former captives of terrorists and help them return to their homes as soon as possible, writes the Nigerian researcher for Human Rights Watch Mausi Segun in her article titled “A long way home: Life for the women rescued from Boko Haram.”

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The Islamist group has been terrorizing the local population since 2010, killed as many as 8,000 people and drew nearly a million from their homes.

“The Boko Haram hallmark is brutal violence: suicide bombings, mass murder, forced conscription of young men and boys, and the destruction of villages, towns, churches, markets, and schools,” the author stresses.

She also points out that in 2015 the group expanded to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist organization.

According to the rights activist, since 2009 Boko Haram terrorists took over 2,000 women and girls captive, whom they are forcing to marry Islamists and brainwash into suicide bombers. However, the world at large learned of the bloody massacre in Nigeria only after 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from Chibok on April 14, 2014.

Mausi Segun stresses that the notorious law enforcement forces of Nigeria that gained bad popularity due to illegal arrests and killings did nothing to save the abducted at first.

“The announcement in late April that Nigerian military authorities had ‘rescued’ 293 women and girls from Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest camp was the first time that families allowed themselves to hope that Nigeria’s security forces might bring back their relatives. More rescues followed. As of June, Nigeria’s military claims to have found about 1,000 women and girls, although the schoolgirls from Chibok remain in captivity,” the HRW representative explains.

She describes her visit to one of the displaced persons camp for the former Boko Haram victims in the Eastern village of Malkohi in mid-May 2015, where the women and the girls are treated by medics and psychologists. One of the girls, whose name was listed as Miriam to protect her identity, told the HRW representative that the terrorists broke into their house on the night into April 12, 2014, shot her father and two brothers, and abducted all women, girls and young boys from the village, including her mother, her five-year-old brother, and 14-year-old Miriam herself.

The women and the girls in the camp described how the terrorists forced them to make frequent moves on feet that sometimes went on for days, with no food and water, in an attempt to avoid the military, driving some of their friends and acquaintances to death from exhaustion.

“Older women in the camp, including Miriam’s mother, were released without explanation four months into their captivity. But Miriam was not so lucky; she endured eight more months of relentless daily beatings meant to pressure her into marrying one of the insurgents. She never gave in,” the HRW representative writes.

Mausi Segun also quotes a description of one of the rescued women who spent several months in capture in Bita village to the north-east of Nigeria, who tells of a makeshift prison in the hull of a shot plane where the terrorists locked women for the smallest infractions or escape attempts, and how she was let out only after she helped another captive who got pregnant from one of the fighters to safely deliver her baby.

They also told that the rescue operation organized by the Nigerian army left many dead from bomb shards, reckless driving of army vehicles and stray bullets.

“When the Nigerian military began to advance on Bita in early April and several rockets hit the area, Boko Haram fighters moved the camp and their captives to the Sambisa Forest. But soon the military moved into the forest as well. In disarray, Boko Haram fighters ordered the captives to flee with them. When many refused, the fighters pelted the captives with stones,” Mausi Segun writes.

She tells of the happiness the former captives experienced when they got a chance to contact their relatives, and of their dreams to return home soon, that were not to come true.

“About a week after my visit, Nigerian soldiers moved the women and children to a military base in Kaduna. When I contacted camp officials to find out why the group had been moved, I was told it was a ‘purely military affair.’ Media reports quote unnamed government officials saying they suspected that some of the women and girls might have maintained contact with Boko Haram members,” the author explained.

She quotes a Nigerian human rights activist who visited the base and said the former captives, including over 200 girls under 9, are currently undergoing a deradicalization program, with no news on when they will be let go and whether they will receive any help after.

In conclusion, Mausi Segun expressed her belief that the visit of the newly elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to the US President Barack Obama aimed at improvement of counterterrorism cooperation will help resolve the issue.

“The U.S. government will need to outline clear benchmarks for any financial and military support to ensure that Nigeria’s response to Boko Haram protects human rights,” the author thinks.

In her opinion, the authorities must do more to reduce friendly fire during the rescue operations and reveal more information on the conditions for the former captives.

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