Amnesty International documents terror group's crimes, but also indicts authorities
Need an idea for Lenten almsgiving?
Help us spread faith on the internet. Would you consider donating just $10, so we can continue creating free, uplifting content?
Boko Haram, which abducted some 276 school girls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok one year ago, has committed war crimes and crimes agains humanity with impunity, Amnesty International charged in a report released Tuesday.
But in many cases, authorities in Nigeria have failed to protect its people, the report alleges.
A year after the mass kidnapping that spurred a worldwide Twitter campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, the fate of many of the youngsters is still unknown.
"It is worrying that we do not know anything about the Chibok girls one year after their kidnapping," said Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos and President of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria.
At least At least 56 girls have escaped since the early morning raid on April 14, 2014, but 219 are still missing.
The Voice of America quoted one of those who escaped, identified as Saratu, 19, who said that the moment the men spoke in Hausa, saying they were soldiers "and that we shouldn’t be afraid, we knew it was Boko Haram.”
“They told us we shouldn’t be in school. That education, ‘book,’ is bad, ‘haram,’ and that we should come with them,” Saratu said.
As Amnesty’s report explains, "Boko Haram" means "Western education is forbidden," but the terror organization’s official name is Jamā’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lādda’awatih wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad). It was established in 2002 in northeast Nigeria "as a religious movement committed to a society based on its interpretation of Islam. After clashes in 2009 between the security forces and Boko Haram’s members, during which the group’s founder Muhammed Yusuf was extrajudicially executed, the group began a series of revenge attacks against the police."
The report, which documents Boko Haram’s violent campaign against Nigerians since the beginning of 2014, explains:
Boko Haram’s attacks increasingly targeted civilians and from 2012 the group attacked schools, teachers and students to prevent people from receiving a western education. In mid-2013, state security forces pushed Boko Haram out of the cities and towns of northeast Nigeria where they had lived among the population. They moved to remote communities and camps, such as their headquarters in Sambisa forest, Borno state. From these bases, Boko Haram launched almost daily attacks against civilian targets.
In 2014 Boko Haram killed more than 4,000 people, although the true figure is almost certainly higher. In the first three months of 2015, Boko Haram fighters killed at least 1,500 civilians. The group bombed civilian targets across Nigeria, raided towns and villages in the northeast and from July 2014 began to capture major towns. By February 2015, it controlled the majority of Borno state, as well as northern Adamawa state and eastern Yobe state. In August 2014, Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, proclaimed this territory to be a caliphate. Tens of thousands of civilians were subjected to Boko Haram’s brutal rule.
In February 2015 a counter-offensive by the Nigerian military, with support from Cameroon, Chad and Niger, forced Boko Haram from some major towns and released many civilians from Boko Haram’s rule. It is too early to judge whether this has weakened Boko Haram’s ability to threaten the lives and property of civilians in the northeast.
Boko Haram used improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including car bombs, and suicide bombers to kill civilians at markets, transport hubs, schools and other public institutions.They repeatedly attacked cities in the northeast, but also struck targets in cities across Nigeria. In 46 bomb attacks between January 2014 and March 2015, the group killed at least 817 people.
Boko Haram’s raids on towns and villages in northeast Nigeria terrorized civilians and disrupted ordinary people’s livelihoods. Some attacks were carried out by just two or three gunmen on a motorcycle, some by hundreds of fighters supported by tanks and anti-aircraft weapons mounted on flat-bed trucks. The fighters shot civilians in the streets and in their homes. They stole from people’s houses, shops and markets, burned these buildings and left.They frequently abducted civilians. In some attacks, Boko Haram gunmen quietly entered villages or towns and assassinated specific individuals identified in advance. In others, BokoHaram assembled civilians and preached to them, instructing them not to be loyal to the government and to follow Boko Haram’s version of Islam. Boko Haram sometimes gave civilians a choice: to be killed or join the group. More frequently, fighters simply shot civilians or cut their throats.
And, as the world’s attention was focused on the January 2015 Islamist attack on the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Boko Haram launched one of its deadliest attacks:
Boko Haram took control of Baga, Kukawa LGA, Borno state. Soldiers stationed just outside Baga received warnings that Boko Haram intended to attack Baga and repeatedly requested reinforcements from their superiors. No reinforcements were sent and at 6am on 3 January Boko Haram attacked the base and forced the soldiers to flee. Boko Haram fighters went on to attack Baga and neighbouring Doron Baga. They went through the streets shooting civilians in the streets and in their homes. Boko Haram gunmen hid among trees surrounding the towns and killed many more civilians as they tried to flee. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the attack. Comparing satellite images taken days before and after the attack shows that more than 3,700 buildings were damaged or destroyed.
The report notes that not all civilians have been targeted by Boko Haram. Targets most often include politicians, civil servants, teachers, health workers and traditional leaders "because of their relationship with secular authority. Boko Haram called them “unbelievers."
Christians living in the northeast were included in this category, but so were Islamic religious figures, from the leaders of sects to local Imams, if they publicly opposed Boko Haram or failed to follow the group’s teachings. At times, Boko Haram gave such individuals the option of converting, whether Christian or Muslim, instead of being killed.
The report also describes the fate of persons abducted by Boko Haram. Women and girls were forced into marriage with Boko Haram members. "These wives were forced to perform domestic chores and were raped," it says. "Although rape was banned in territories under Boko Haram control, women and girls were also raped in secret outside forced marriages.
Men and boys abducted by Boko Haram were forced to provide services for Boko Haram or to join them as fighters, the report adds. "Men and women were forced to observe BokoHaram’s prayers and receive religious education. Boko Haram enforced its rules with harsh punishments including public floggings and executions.
But the Amnesty report also indicts Nigeria’s security forces, which, it says, have "repeatedly failed to protect the civilian population from attacks," in spite of advance warnings, in many cases. "Requests for troops to be sent, or for the existing military presence to be reinforced, received no response," the report says. "Nigeria’s government must take all necessary legal measures to guarantee the safety, security and protection of civilians and their properties."
Archbishop Kaigama is hopeful, however. "We are grateful for the progress made in recent months in terms of the recovery of territorial control from Boko Haram, whose activities are now limited," he told Fides news agency. "What is important now is to intensify efforts to track down the [Chibok] girls. The new government has promised to do more. The President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, is a former senior official who knows the military and intelligence issues very well. We hope to be able to outline a strategy to defeat Boko Haram and bring home the kidnapped girls."
The Voice of America described the atmosphere in Chibok today:
“People say the girls are in Gwoza. Others say they have been married off. The truth is only God knows where the girls are," she said, adding that she misses her daughter. “My daughter, she’s a very funny girl. Even when she saw me, if I’m sad. She would come and kneel and stay with me. Mummy, what is worrying you [she would say]. Don’t keep yourself so worried.”