“Those Terrible Weeks in their Camp”: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria
Human Rights Watch
21 October 2014
Boko Haram, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamist insurgency, whose name in Hausa roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden,” has abducted at least 500 women and girls from northern Nigerian since 2009 and has perpetrated numerous human rights abuses against them in captivity. The April 14, 2014 abduction of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, a rural town in Borno State, focused a much-needed spotlight on this increasing scourge.
While much has been written about Boko Haram and the horrific threat it poses, very little is known about the abuses endured by women and girls in captivity. Such victims are obviously hard to find. This report, based on field research, including interviews with victims and witnesses of abduction, documents the abduction of women and girls by Boko Haram, highlighting the harrowing experiences of some of the abducted women and girls. There remain many more women and girls in captivity whose stories have not yet been told.
From June through August 2014, Human Rights Watch interviewed 30 individuals who were abducted by Boko Haram between April 2013 and April 2014, and 16 others who witnessed the abductions. The victims, including 12 students of the Chibok School who escaped from Boko Haram custody after they were abducted, provided further details of the abuses they endured. The women and girls described how they were abducted from their homes and villages while working on the farms, fetching water, or attending school. The victims were held in eight different Boko Haram camps that they believed to be in the 518-square-kilometer Sambisa Forest Reserve and around the Gwoza hills for periods ranging from two days to three months. They saw scores of other women and children, but were unable to ascertain if some, or all, had also been abducted or if they were family members of the insurgents. The women and children ranged from infancy to 65 years old. The Gwoza hills, which form a natural barrier between Nigeria and Cameroon, overlook Sambisa forest to the north and runs from Pulka town, 80 miles south east of Maiduguri, Borno State into Cameroon’s Far North region.
The women and girls told Human Rights Watch that for refusing to convert to Islam, they and many others they saw in the camps were subjected to physical and psychological abuse; forced labor; forced participation in military operations, including carrying ammunition or luring men into ambush; forced marriage to their captors; and sexual abuse, including rape. In addition, they were made to cook, clean, and perform other household chores. Others served as porters, carrying the loot stolen by the insurgents from villages and towns they had attacked. While some of the women and girls seemed to have been taken arbitrarily, the majority appeared to have been targeted for abduction because they were students, Christians, or both.
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