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Africa

Amnesty: Boko Haram 'still a deadly force'

A year ago Islamist militant group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls. The plight of the Chibok girls gained global attention - but Amnesty International says there are many more victims.

Rights group Amnesty International says as many as 2,000 women and girls have been abducted in Nigeria since the start of 2014. Unlike the Chibok girls, their disappearance has not made international headlines. DW spoke to Amnesty researcher Daniel Eyre.

DW: What information does Amnesty have about the fate of the abductees?

Daniel Eyre: The information we've been getting from some people who have been able to escape is that they have been subjected to torture, some have been raped. We've found that some have been forced to marry Boko Haram members and also some of them have been trained as fighters. We spoke to a 19 year-old woman who had been abducted back in September 2014. She was taken to a Boko Haram camp and held there for three months, during which time she was repeatedly raped, on one occasion by six men. She was also trained to use weapons and bombs. She told me she had been taken with other Boko Haram fighters on an operation to her own village. These are the kind of horrific stories that are coming from some of the people who have been able to escape from Boko Haram control.

Why is it that Boko Haram is able to operate with impunity?

Well, in the second half of 2014 Boko Haram began to take control of some of the major towns and cities in northeast Nigeria. What they did was first of all attack the military barracks, force the soldiers out and steal the arms and ammunition that were there. Through a pattern of these attacks, they were able to get stronger and stronger, taking these weapons and using them to attack new locations. We actually found that since 2014 Boko Haram has killed more than 5,500 civilians in such attacks. So over the last 15 months Boko Haram really did grow in strength. It's only since mid-February that the Nigerian military, with support from other countries, has been able to start pushing Boko Haram out of major towns. However, that does not necessarily mean an end to the conflict. Even during that time Boko Haram has still been attacking civilians. I spoke to someone just last week whose village was attacked. 27 men were rounded up and executed in that attack so the conflict is still very much ongoing.

Is this military offensive weakening Boko Haram? Is it preventing it from carrying out the abductions we have been talking about?

Unfortunately it's still too early to tell. As I said, I spoke with someone last week whose village had been attacked on 27 March, that's very recent. But we've also seen Boko Haram killing civilians and destroying towns as they've been pushed out of them by the military. In Bama, for example, one town in the northeast, satellite images show that Boko Haram destroyed around 5,900 buildings just before they fled. They set fire to the houses and people died in those fires so Boko Haram is still very deadly.

If Nigeria's President-elect Muhammadu Buhari is to defeat Boko Haram and put an end to the human rights abuses for which it is responsible, what does he need to do?

We think first of all the military operations do need to prioritize the protection of civilians. It's been great to push Boko Haram out of these major towns, but while they are still able to attack villages like the one I mentioned, more needs to be done by the military to put civilians first and protect people from Boko Haram attacks. Secondly, what we are asking is that the government makes sure that people who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance are able to access that. In fact, as Boko Haram's been pushed out of major towns, civilians who were trapped there have been making their way back to safe government-controlled areas and this is putting a real strain on the ability of the state and communities there to look after the new arrivals, many of whom suffer from malnutrition and some from illnesses. Finally, our last call on the government is to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Boko Haram and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Is this a matter for the International Criminal Court (ICC)?

Well, first of all it is the responsibility of the Nigerian government to investigate this. We hope that the ICC will consider our report as part of its preliminary examinations which are already ongoing into the situation. But what the ICC is waiting for, and what we are waiting for, is for the Nigerian government to take the lead and show that is willing and able to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

Interview: Mark Caldwell

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