Nigeria is marking the first anniversary of the abduction of 219 schoolgirls by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. Amnesty International says the group has kidnapped thousands of other girls and women as well.
A series of events is planned in Nigeria and around the world to mark one year since the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, who were abducted by Boko Haram militants from the northeastern town of Chibok on April 14, 2015.
People have been holding prayer services and candlelit vigils in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, which has seen almost daily rallies calling for the girls' immediate release since they were abducted. A march is also expected in the city to mark the anniversary.
In the United States, the Empire State Building in New York will be illuminated in the campaign's colors, red and purple, in a symbolic plea to end violence against women. On social networks, the story of the missing girls is being kept alive through the hashtag and campaign #BringBackOurGirls.
Nigeria's President-elect Muhammadu Buhari vowed on Tuesday to make every possible effort to find and free the girls, but admitted that he could not promise success.
"We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them," he said in a statement.
"My government will do everything in its power to bring them home," he said, adding that he would take a different approach to the task than President Goodluck Jonathan, who has come under fire at home and abroad for what critics say is a sluggish response to the crisis.
This comes as human rights group Amnesty International (AI) and the United Nations have released reports showing that kidnapping and sexually abusing women and girls are being used routinely as weapons by extremists in many countries around the world.
In its report issued on Tuesday, AI said Boko Haram had kidnapped at least 2,000 women and girls since the start of last year during its campaign to establish an Islamic state in the country.
It said those kidnapped were forced to become cooks, sex slaves and fighters, and that those who refused to comply were sometimes killed.
The report, which is based on dozens of interviews with witnesses and escaped abductees, is entitled "'Our job is to shoot, slaughter and kill': Boko Haram's reign of terror."
AI also estimates that the group killed more than 4,000 people in 2014.
Sexual violence on the increase
In a report released on Monday, the UN also condemned sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed extremist groups including Boko Haram and the "Islamic State" group.
The report lists 45 groups in Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Congo, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria that are "credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape" in conflict. It said it was the first time that charges of using sexual violence had been leveled at thirteen of the groups.
Speaking of the Boko Haram kidnappings, the report said that "forced marriage, enslavement and the 'sale' of kidnapped women and girls are central to Boko Haram's modus operandi and ideology."
It noted a "significant increase" since mid-2014 in sexual violence against women and girls used by terrorist groups.
It singled out "Islamic State's" abduction of hundreds of Yazidi women and girls in Iraq, where some of the victims were taken to Syria and "sold" as sex slaves.
tj/jil (AFP, Reuters)