Rights Group Accuses Security Officials Of Raping, Sexually Exploiting Women, Girls Idps
BEVERLY HILLS, October 31, (THEWILL) – The Human Rights Watch, HRW, on Monday alleged that government officials and other authorities in Nigeria have raped and sexually exploited women and girls displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram, adding that government was not doing enough to protect displaced women and girls and ensure that they have access to basic rights and services.
The rights group faulted government for failing to sanction the abusers, who include camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers, disclosing that in July, it documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation, of 43 women and girls living in seven internally displaced persons, IDP camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
The victims had been displaced from several Borno towns and villages, including Abadam, Bama, Baga, Damasak, Dikwa, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza, Kukawa, and Walassa. In some cases, the victims had arrived in the under-served Maiduguri camps, where their movement is severely restricted after spending months in military screening camps.
A senior Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, Mausi Segun, said in a statement, “It is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram”, adding that “It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them.”
Four of the victims told Human Rights Watch that they were drugged and raped, while 37 were coerced into sex through false marriage promises and material and financial assistance.
Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned after they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatization from other camp residents. Eight of the victims said they were previously abducted by Boko Haram fighters and forced into marriage before they escaped to Maiduguri, the group said.
Women and girls abused by members of the security forces and the Civilian JTF – told the organization that they feel powerless and fear retaliation if they report the abuse.
A 17-year-old girl said that just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town 56 miles west of Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, and then he raped her.
According to her, “One day he demanded to have sex with me. I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realized I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”
Irregular supplies of food, clothing, medicine, and other essentials, along with restricted movement in the IDP camps in Maiduguri, compounds the vulnerability of victims – many of them widowed women and unaccompanied orphaned girls – to rape and sexual exploitation by camp officials, soldiers, police, members of civilian vigilante groups, and other Maiduguri residents.
Residents of the Arabic Teachers Village camp, Pompomari, told Human Rights Watch in July that the camp had not received any food or medicines since late May, just before the start of the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan.
In some cases, men used their positions of authority and gifts of desperately needed food or other items to have sex with women. A woman in a Dalori camp said residents get only one meal a day. She said she accepted the advances of a soldier who proposed marriage because she needed help in feeding her four children. He disappeared five months later when she told him she was pregnant.
Human Rights Watch stated that victims of rape and sexual exploitation may be less likely to seek health care, including psychological counselling, due to the shame they feel. Fewer than five of the 43 women and girls interviewed said they had received any formal counseling after they were raped or sexually exploited.
A medical health worker in one of the camps, which has 10,000 residents, said that the number of people requiring treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections has risen sharply, from about 200 cases when the camp clinic was established in 2014 to more than 500 in July 2016. The health worker said she believed that many more women could be infected but were ashamed to go to the clinic, and are likely to be suffering in silence without treatment.
The rights group said it wrote to several Nigerian authorities in August requesting comment on the research findings. The minister of women affairs and social development, Aisha Jumai Alhassan, promised in a meeting with Human Rights Watch on September 5 to investigate the allegations and then respond. Her response has not yet been received at time of writing.