Amnesty International on Wednesday called on the Nigerian Government to urgently address its failure to protect and provide education to an entire generation of children in the North-East, a region devastated by years of Boko Haram atrocities and gross violations by the military.
A 91-page report released on Wednesday titled: ‘We dried our tears’: Addressing the toll on children of North-East Nigeria’s conflict, examines how the military’s widespread unlawful detention and torture have compounded the suffering of children from Borno and Adamawa states who faced war crimes and crimes against humanity at the hands of Boko Haram.
It also reveals how international donors had bankrolled a flawed programme that claims to reintegrate former alleged fighters but which overwhelmingly amounts to unlawful detention of children and adults.
The document reads, “The past decade of bitter conflict between Nigeria’s military and Boko Haram has been an assault on childhood itself in Northeast Nigeria. The Nigerian authorities risk creating a lost generation unless they urgently address how the war has targeted and traumatised thousands of children,” said Joanne Mariner, Acting Director of Crisis Response at Amnesty International.
“Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked schools and abducted large numbers of children as soldiers or ‘wives,’ among other atrocities.
“The Nigerian military’s treatment of those who escape such brutality has also been appalling. From mass, unlawful detention in inhumane conditions, to meting out beatings and torture and allowing sexual abuse by adult inmates – it defies belief that children anywhere would be so grievously harmed by the very authorities charged with their protection.”
Between November 2019 and April 2020, Amnesty International interviewed more than 230 people affected by the conflict, including 119 who were children when they suffered serious crimes by Boko Haram, the Nigerian military, or both. This included 48 children held in military detention for months or years, as well as 22 adults who had been detained with children.
According to the international rights body, children have been among those most impacted by Boko Haram’s string of atrocities carried out over large swathes of North-East Nigeria for nearly a decade. The armed group’s classic tactics have included attacks on schools, widespread abductions, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and forced marriage of girls and young women, which all constitute crimes under international law.
The report also pointed out that, children who escape Boko Haram territory face a raft of violations by the Nigerian authorities, also including crimes under international law.
At best, they end up displaced, struggling for survival and with little or no access to education. At worst, they are arbitrarily detained for years in military barracks, in conditions amounting to torture or other ill-treatment.
Most such detentions are unlawful; children are never charged or prosecuted for any crime and are denied the rights to access a lawyer, appear before a judge, or communicate with their families. The widespread unlawful detentions may amount to a crime against humanity.
Amnesty International also documented violations at Operation Safe Corridor, a programme backed by millions of dollars in support from the EU, UK, USA, and other partners.
The military-run detention centre outside Gombe was set up in 2016 with the aim of de-radicalizing and rehabilitating alleged Boko Haram fighters or supporters. It has seen around 270 “graduates” in several batches since.
Conditions are better at the Safe Corridor site than elsewhere in military detention, and former detainees spoke positively about the psychosocial support and adult education there.
But most of the men and boys there have not been informed of any legal basis for their detention and still lack access to lawyers or courts to contest it.
Their promised six-month stay has in some cases extended to 19 months, during which time they are deprived of liberty and under constant armed guard.