Amnesty International issued a report on Thursday, detailing alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian military and Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) as they battle against Boko Haram.
In their report, entitled “They betrayed us”, they detail the military’s illegal detention of civilians from recaptured areas in the north-east; indiscriminate killings as they burnt down homes; sexual violence and forced prostitution; and insufficient food, water and health care within displacement camps.
“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. “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 Nigerian military responded by dismissing the report as “false” and the accounts in it “fictitious”.
Since 2015 the Nigerian army has been able to make steady progress in recapturing territory under Boko Haram’s control in the north-east. Yet during its efforts it is reported that the military “opened fire at remaining residents indiscriminately” and burned down villages. Furthermore, Amnesty International details how villagers from areas surrounding Boko Haram were ordered into “satellite camps” which the military set up. This constitutes forced displacement which is a violation of international humanitarian law, the organisation added.
People within the recaptured areas were treated with suspicion and were subject to “screening” before being processed into the camps. This often involved “separation of family members, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment”. Males aged 14 to 40 were primarily targeted for arbitrary detention during screening as they seen to be of “fighting age”. Subsequently, in most cases they were transferred to Giwa barracks military faculty “without any individualised assessment of wrongdoing”. Women reported to Amnesty seeing family members blindfolded and taken away by the military. They have still not heard from authorities about their whereabouts.
Whilst in the camps the military imposed restrictions on people mobility, and whilst men were able to leave “to the surrounding areas to farm or collect firewood” women were prohibited from doing so, denying them access to “their own food and livelihood opportunities”. This constitutes de facto detention and is a breach of international law, said Amnesty.
The report also details substandard living conditions within camps due to a lack of food, water and health care with many women stating that they “received no more than a small plate of rice each day which they shared with their dependents”. This has led to high mortality rate within the camps which Amnesty estimates to be in “at least hundreds and possibly thousands […] in this one camp alone”.
Amnesty reports a “pattern of rape and sexual exploitation occurring in the satellite camps from late 2015 until the present”. Civilian JTF members repeatedly beat women they suspected as being “Boko Haram wives” and women who complained similarly risked being labelled Boko Haram wives and would face punishments.
Four women reported to Amnesty that camps such as Bama Secondary School camp were designed to make sexual exploitation easier by “separating young women from their in-laws and other people in the camp”. Military forces and Civilian JTF “commonly used force and threats to rape women and girls and took advantage of the conditions to coerce women into becoming their “girlfriends”, which involved being available for sex on an ongoing basis”. In order to get basic goods such as food and water women were coereced into becoming their “girlfriends” and engaging in transactional sex. This constitutes forced prostitution, it added, noting that the high levels of sexual violence and beatings have led to a staggering mortality rate.
Amnesty notes that there is no accountability mechanism which allowed women to charge officials with a crime. They recommend that international bodies alongside the Nigerian and Borno state government increase the food assistance to IDPs including those within camps; that the federal and Borno state government close also secret detention facilities; and that the federal government ensure accountability for violations of international law committed by soldiers and Civilian JTF members.
The Nigerian military responded by describing the findings as “a false report on fictitious rape incidents in IDP camps in the North East region of Nigeria” and the president has echoed this sentiment stating that the report “lacks credibility”.