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Nigeria’s Rising Number of Missing Persons

Authorities Should Create Database, Provide Information, Reunite Families

Family members of the kidnapped Nigerian Chibok girls, Nigeria, October 18, 2016. © 2016 AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga

Hundreds of people are missing from a town in northeast Nigeria following an attack by suspected Boko Haram fighters on August 18.

Witnesses told me most were abducted by the insurgents or went missing as they fled the attack on the town of Kukawa in Borno state. Thousands of people have disappeared from northeastern villages and towns in the 11-year conflict between the insurgent group Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces. Boko Haram is responsible for the abduction of hundreds, including the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014, many of whom remain unaccounted for.

Many other people have been forcibly disappeared after having been arrested by security forces and militias assisting in counterinsurgency efforts. Last year, Fatima Hassan, a 55-year-old woman from Gwange, Maidguguri, told me that she had not seen or heard from her two sons, Ibrahim, 35, and Musa, 30, since soldiers took them for “questioning” during a neighborhood raid in September 2012. “I have been to all the detention centers I know to look for them,” she said. “But nobody provides information. I don’t know if they are dead or alive.” 

Hassan is part of Jire Dole, a network of survivors and relatives of missing persons of the Boko Haram conflict. The group’s leaders have put together a list of more than 3,000 missing people in their communities and are documenting more.

The caseload of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Nigeria, with nearly 23,000 missing people, is its largest in Africa, out of a total of 44,000 missing on the continent. It is the ICRC’s highest number registered in any country in the world.

In 2015, Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission announced that a database for missing persons would be established, but five years later the database is still not operational.

As a party to core international human rights and humanitarian law treaties, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Geneva Conventions, Nigeria has obligations to provide information on suspects in custody and open inquiries on the fate of missing persons.

As families remember missing loved ones on this International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Nigerian authorities should provide information on their fate or whereabouts, release suspects in government detention facilities who have not been charged, and increase efforts to locate and return those in Boko Haram custody.

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