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Positive Steps Taken in Defense of Boko Haram Victims

Nigeria’s President Pledged to Investigate Sexual Assault of Women Displaced by Militant Group

6 Dec 2016 Update: 

Nigeria’s Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris said ten men have been arrested for sexually abusing and exploiting women and girls who fled Boko Haram and who now live in camps. Those arrested include policemen, military personnel, civilian volunteers who fight Boko Haram, and a state ministry official.

(From 1 Nov 2016) 

Following yesterday’s release of a Human Rights Watch report detailing how Nigerian authorities raped and sexually exploited women and girls displaced by Boko Haram, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari released a statement through his spokesman that he has ordered an immediate investigation into the findings.

Buhari, elected March 2015, said in a tweet that he found the report “very distressing” and would not take the allegations lightly. In a positive step forward for these women and girls, he also tweeted that he will act decisively on the findings of the investigations.

In late July, 2016, Human Rights Watch documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven internally displaced persons camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. The victims had been displaced from several Borno towns and villages. We found that camp officials, soldiers, police, members of civilian vigilante groups, and other Maiduguri residents were preying on the women and girls.

Four of the victims told Human Rights Watch that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance. Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned if they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatization from other camp residents.

Some of the victims had already faced abuse at the hands of Boko Haram – eight said they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage.

Irregular supplies of food, clothing, medicine, and other essentials, along with restricted movement in the camps in Maiduguri, compounds the vulnerability of victims – many of them widowed women and unaccompanied orphaned girls.

Buhari’s promises are an important move to protect these women. Immediate steps, however, are necessary to improve support services to the victims of these abuses, and for rapists to be held accountable for their actions. Authorities should also ensure that there is freedom of movement in the camps, and that enough food, clothing, and basic necessities reach women and girls to protect them from those who want to exploit them. 

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