Nigeria, those children kidnapped by Boko Haram marked by the war in the North East: “A generation now lost”

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ROME – With a chilling new relationship, Amnesty International turns its gaze towards Nigeria where it is increasingly urgent to take note and face the failure to protect and guarantee education for an entire generation of children in the North-East of the country, a region devastated by years of atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram and by huge violations of military forces.The 91-page report, “We Wiped Our Tears: Taking Care of Children Victims of the Northeast Nigeria Conflict,” analyzes the widespread practices of illegitimate detention and torture by military forces, which have compounded the suffering of the children of the states of Borno and Adamawa, which have faced war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of Boko Haram who – remember – is a jihadist terrorist organization spread in Northern Nigeria, allied with the “cutthroats” of the so-called Islamic state.


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The report also reveals how international donors foraged a bankruptcy program that claims to reintegrate former alleged fighters, but which largely equates to an illegal detention of minors and adults. “The last ten years of bitter conflict between the Nigerian military forces and Boko Haram – he says Joanne MarinerAmnesty International Director of Crisis Response – constituted an attack on childhood itself in northeastern Nigeria. Nigerian authorities risk giving birth to a lost generation if they do not urgently address the issue of thousands of minors who have been targeted and traumatized by the war. ”

Girls and boys kidnapped to make them soldiers or brides

“Among the various atrocities Joanne Mariner continued – Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked schools and kidnapped many children to make them soldiers or ‘brides’. The treatment of Nigerian military forces for those who escape this brutality has been equally atrocious. From illegitimate and mass detention in inhuman conditions to beatings and torture, up to allowing sexual abuse by adult prisoners: it is difficult to imagine – he concluded – another place in the world where minors can be so seriously damaged by the same authorities in charge of their protection “.
Between November 2019 and April 2020, Amnesty International interviewed over 230 people affected by the conflict, including 119 who, when they suffered serious crimes by Boko Haram, Nigerian military forces or both, were minors. The group also included 48 minors who had been under military detention for months or years, as well as 22 adults who had been arrested together with their children.




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The brutality of Boko Haram

The minors are one of the groups most affected by the atrocities of Boko Haram, perpetrated on large areas of north-eastern Nigeria for about a decade. The armed group made extensive use of attacks on schools, mass kidnappings, recruitment and use of child soldiers, forced marriages of girls and young women, which are all crimes under international law.This pattern of crime is well known because of major cases such as the kidnapping of hundreds of female students in Chibok in 2014. However, the scale of the kidnappings has been largely underestimated and is likely to reach thousands. Boko Haram continues to force parents to hand over boys and girls, under threat of death. He continues to “marry” girls and young women under duress. And it continues to kill people who try to escape.

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Whipped and stoned children

Children in areas under the control of Boko Haram have been subjected to torture, such as flogging and other violence, as well as being forced to witness public executions and other brutal punishments. A 17-year-old girl who fled Boko Haram after being kidnapped and held in captivity for four years described life in the Sambisa forest: “The [mio] perfidious ‘husband’ always beat me … My daily activities included prayer, cooking if there was food, [e] go to Quran lesson. No movement was allowed and friends could not be visited. It was a terrible experience and I witnessed several punishments: shootings, stonings or floggings. “




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The girl and most of the other former “brides” girls interviewed, including some who had returned with children born in captivity, received little or no assistance in returning to school, obtaining livelihoods, or accessing a psychosocial support. “I would like to go to school but there is no money,” said the seventeen year old. “The biggest help for me would be to go to school.”

Military detention: underestimated data

Minors fleeing the Boko Haram territory face many violations by the Nigerian authorities, including crimes under international law. If all goes well, they end up displaced to fight for survival with little or no access to education. If it goes wrong, they are held under arbitrary detention for years in military barracks, under conditions equivalent to torture and other ill-treatment.The UN has communicated to Amnesty International that it has verified the release of 2879 minors from the military detention regime since 2015, although it previously mentioned a greater number of minors detained between 2013 and 2019. These data are very likely to be widely underestimated. The UN has reported that it has limited access to military detention facilities and is therefore unable to provide the real number of children detained in the conflict.

Torture until he confesses

Most of these detentions are illegal; minors are never charged or prosecuted for an offense and are denied the right to access a lawyer, to appear before a judge or to communicate with families. Widespread illegal detentions can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Almost all those who flee the territory of Boko Haram, even minors, are “controlled” by military forces and the joint civil task force through a process that for many involves torture until affiliation to Boko Haram is “confessed” . The alleged members and supporters of Boko Haram are transferred and detained, often for months or years, in poor conditions in detention centers such as the Giwa barracks in Maiduguri and the Kainji military base in the state of Niger.

Beastly conditions of detention

Each ex-convict interviewed described the conditions in a coherent and very detailed way: great overcrowding, lack of ventilation in a suffocating hot climate, parasites everywhere, urine and feces on the floor due to the lack of toilets.

Although there have been some improvements in recent years, many ex-convicts, including some minors, have also faced very little access to water, food and health care.

Tens of thousands of detainees were held in such extreme conditions as to constitute the war crime of torture, and many children continue to be so, even after mass releases in late 2019 and early 2020.

The disappearance of at least 10,000 people

Amnesty International estimates that at least 10,000 people, including many minors, have died in detention during the conflict. A 14-year-old boy who Boko Haram had kidnapped as a child before he could escape and was placed under detention by Nigerian military forces said: “The conditions in Giwa are so terrible as to die there. There is nowhere to lie … It’s hot, you have all your wet clothes as if they put you in a river … So far, no one has told me why I was brought here, what I did and why they arrested me. I wonder, why I ran away [da Boko Haram]? “.

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The Safe Hall operation

Amnesty International also documented violations in the “Safe Corridor” operation, a million-dollar aid program provided by the European Union, the United Kingdom, the US and other partners. The out of Gombe detention center run by military forces was established in 2016 with the aim of deradicalizing and rehabilitating alleged fighters or supporters of Boko Haram.

There have been around 270 “graduates” in many groups since then. Conditions are better in the Safe Corridor than in any other context of military detention, and the ex-convicts expressed themselves positively about the psychological support and adult education received there.

No explanation to who is being held

However, most of the men and boys in the center have not been informed of any legal grounds for their detention and still do not have access to lawyers or courts to appeal. They had been promised a six-month stay, which in some cases was extended to 19 months, during which time they were deprived of their liberty and constantly under armed surveillance.

Former detainees reported to Amnesty International that medical care was profoundly lacking. Seven inmates died, many, if not all, after receiving inadequate medical care. The Nigerian authorities have not even communicated it to the families, who have instead been informed by the released detainees.

Work never paid

A professional training program that is part of the Safe Corridor could correspond to forced labor, considering that most, if not all, prisoners have never been convicted of any crime and manufacture everything from footwear to soaps and furniture without receive no consideration.

The program also forces some inmates to work in unsafe conditions. Some of them suffered serious hand injuries from having to work in contact with caustic soda, a highly corrosive substance, without protective devices. “Caustic soda is dangerous. In contact with the body, it removes the skin,” said a 61-year-old ex-convict.

“The armed forces release the minors”

“None of the major donors to the Safe Corridor program would approve such a prolonged and illegal detention system for their citizens, so why do they do it in Nigeria?” He said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

“The Nigerian armed forces must release all children in arbitrary detention and put an end to other violations that appear to have the aim of punishing thousands of children, many of whom have also been victims of the Boko Haram atrocities. A commitment to minors and in their psychological recovery could pave the way for a new path to the north-east of the country, “concluded Osai Ojigho.



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