Boko Haram Victims Need More Help, Asserts Human Rights Watch

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A protester addressesing the "Bring Back Our Girls" protest group as they march to the presidential villa to deliver a protest letter to Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, Oct. 17, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Not enough is being done to help the women and girls who have suffered in captivity by Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has terrorized several states in Nigeria, Human Rights Watch announced, based on a report it released Monday.

Boko Haram has abducted over 500 women and girls since 2009, most infamously 276 girls from the Chibok secondary school in April. Women and girls who escaped captivity from Boko Haram recalled horrific tales of forced marriage and conversion as well as rape and physical and psychological abuse in interviews conducted by the human rights group.

Human Rights Watch based it 63-page report, “‘Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp’: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria,” on interviews with some 46 witnesses and victims of Boko Haram abductions in the Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The human rights group accused the Nigerian government of failing to adequately protect women and girls from a range of abuses, provide former captives with effective mental health support and medical care, ensure that girls have access to safe schools, or prosecute the perpetrators of such abuses.

“The Chibok tragedy and #Bring Back Our Girls campaign focused much-needed global attention to the horrific vulnerability of girls in northeastern Nigeria,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Now the Nigerian government and its allies need to step up their efforts to put an end to these brutal abductions and provide for the medical, psychological, and social needs of the women and girls who have managed to escape.”

Researchers from Human Rights Watch also interviewed an array of professionals and diplomats in preparing the report.

The Nigerian government announced a cease-fire with Boko Haram on October 17. While an aide to Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, said there was an also an agreement to release the girls kidnapped in Chibok, another official said negotiations for the schoolgirls' release are still under way.

Boko Haram targets primarily students and Christians, according to the report, threatening its victims with whipping, beating or death if they do not convert to Islam, stop going to school or wear the veil or hijab.

The report quoted a 19-year-old girl who said she and some fellow students were abducted in January and were only released after pretending to be Muslims and pledging never to return to school. According to report, a large number of women in northeast Nigeria have dropped out of secondary school.

While the federal and state governments have set up funds for the 57 students who escaped Boko Haram, support for other victims of Boko Haram abuse has been minimal, according to the report. Interviewers did not find any women or girls who knew of or had received government-supported mental health or medical care. Moreover, the interviewees were scared of talking about the traumas they had suffered.

“The survivors of Boko Haram’s violence should not be shamed and frightened into silence,” said Bekele, the Africa director. “It is Boko Haram that should be ashamed of the abuses they commit against women and girls in their extreme interpretation of religious text.”

Human Rights Watch called on stronger law enforcement against perpetrators of serious crimes.

“Abuses by Boko Haram and inadequate responses by the government are leaving many people in northern Nigeria beset by fear and anguish,” Bekele said. “The government and its allies need to step up their protection, support services, and prosecutions of abuses on both sides to stop this cycle of terror.”

Boko Haram translates roughly from the Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden."

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