A recent study by Amnesty International has revealed that women and girls who were victims of rape by Boko Haram insurgents are neglected by the Nigerian government.
The report, made available to SaharaReporters on Wednesday, showed during raids in Borno communities, Boko Haram fighters raped women and girls who were caught at home or trying to flee.
Amnesty International, however, said none of the survivors appeared to have accessed formal health services, linking it to a significant underreporting of such events.
It read, “Rape and other sexual violence survivors and witnesses described attacks involving sexual violence in at least five villages in the Magumeri local government area of Borno State. During raids, usually at night, Boko Haram fighters raped women and girls who were caught at home or trying to flee.
“One woman was physically assaulted by Boko Haram fighters as she fled from an attack in late 2020. She crawled to home and hid there with her children, and saw fighters return and enter a nearby home.
“She said: 'In the next house, I started hearing some women were shouting and screaming and crying. I was very afraid. After some minutes, maybe 30 minutes, I saw the men come out of the house. There were five or six of them with their guns. Then afterwards, the women were confused. Their dresses were not normal.”
Amnesty International said it also interviewed three other witnesses who similarly described the same attack, including hearing women’s screams and seeing them extremely distressed after Boko Haram left.
According to the group, a traditional healer said she cared for several women following the attack, who had been raped.
“The same healer had previously treated two other survivors, including one who was under 18 years old, after a Boko Haram attack on another village. She said: 'I could see the pain on their faces. [The first survivor] told me what happened. I saw her private parts. They were very swollen. So I understood it was more than one or two people who had raped her. She was suffering.'
“Another woman told Amnesty International that during the same attack, fighters shot people who were running away, then came to her house and sexually assaulted her. She said: 'The men entered my room. I asked what they wanted. They took my jewellery and belongings. Then they fell on me.'
“Access to abortion is illegal in Nigeria, except when life is at risk, which means survivors of rape do not have access to safe and legal abortion.”
On the method of abduction, some of the witnesses who spoke with Amnesty International described Boko Haram abducting women during several attacks, taking them away on motorbikes. The women were returned to their village days later, with clear signs of trauma.
The report said residents of these communities under attack fled to areas within the Nigerian military’s established perimeters. Some settled less than a kilometre from an internally displaced persons' camp outside Maiduguri.
It said when some tried to move into the camp, they were told it was full.
It reported that many of the women are frustrated that no one from the government or the humanitarian community has spoken with them to understand the targeting of women during attacks, and what support is needed now.
Some reportedly wished the government would acknowledge and apologise for what happened, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
According to the Amnesty International report, months after settling near the IDP camp, the communities have still not received any assistance, including food, shelter, or health care.
Early this month, a young child died, and her family told Amnesty International she was malnourished and that they believed that factor contributed to her death.
Those who spoke with Amnesty alleged that the officials of the IDP camps send the women away.
One woman told Amnesty International: “We need food assistance. All around us are malnourished children. Some of the women go to the camp, [but they’re] told to go away. Some are begging. Some [of us] are selling our things.”
Also, the report concluded that Boko Haram fighters killed people trying to flee and looted livestock, money, and other valuables.
The Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, alleged that these affected communities are abandoned by the military forces that should protect them.
He said, “As Boko Haram continue their relentless cycle of killings, abductions and looting, they are also subjecting women and girls to rape and other sexual violence during their attacks. These atrocities are war crimes.
“The targeted communities have been abandoned by the forces that are supposed to protect them, and are struggling to gain any recognition or response to the horrors they’ve suffered.”
He called on the Nigerian authorities to urgently address this issue while urging the International Criminal Court to immediately open a full investigation into the atrocities committed by all sides, and ensure those responsible are held accountable, including for crimes against women and girls.
After repeated displacement, the affected communities have mostly moved to military-controlled areas, but many have yet to receive any humanitarian assistance.
Also, Amnesty International submitted that Boko Haram fighters, during raids on communities, stole everything they could find.
Residents of affected communities who spoke with Amnesty International said fighters arrived on motorbikes and foot, before firing into the air.
They said Boko Haram targeted and murdered civilians who tried to flee from attacks. Also, they claimed, several older people who were unable to flee were killed inside their homes. They also alleged that fighters went house-to-house, rounding up livestock and stealing valuables, including money, mobile phones, jewellery, and clothes.
“Witnesses described fighters loading the looted property onto their motorbikes, or on donkeys from the village. To steal livestock, fighters often forced young men to herd the animals into the forest,” the report added.
A 40-year-old man whose village was raided told Amnesty International: “Before now, if you came to our house, you’d see we had cows and goats. I didn’t have many, just a few, but with that I was content. Now, we have nothing… They took everything from us.”
The residents said some of the insurgents wore Nigerian military uniforms, while others wore the traditional dress of the region. They said they knew the perpetrators belonged to Boko Haram, and not the Nigerian military, for several reasons, one of which was that they could hear the fighters speaking languages common among Boko Haram members.
Also, residents said the fighters came on motorbikes, not military vehicles; and that the fighters dressed in a combination of attire.
“Even those fighters wearing stolen Nigerian military uniforms often wore sandals or had bare feet, instead of military boots.”
Like other reports, witnesses who spoke with Amnesty said some children, aged between 15 and 17, were among the attackers, along with men in their 20s.
“This is a humanitarian crisis that is getting worse day-by-day. The Nigerian authorities and partners must act now to support those most in need, and ensure this horrendous situation doesn’t continue to deteriorate,” said Ojigho.
The conflict in northeast Nigeria has created a humanitarian crisis, with more than 2,000,000 people now displaced. Boko Haram has also frequently targeted aid workers trying to respond to the crisis.
The Nigerian authorities have not taken any genuine steps towards investigating and prosecuting crimes by Boko Haram or the Nigerian security forces, including crimes of sexual violence.
Last December, the chief prosecutor of the ICC announced that her office had concluded a decade-long preliminary examination into the situation in Nigeria, saying that it had found sufficient evidence of crimes to open a full investigation.
No formal investigation has yet been opened. The conflict continues to have a dire impact on civilians, as documented in Amnesty International reports on the experience of women, children and older people.