- Cameroonian soldiers stripped, raped Nigerian refugees
Hundreds of women and children who were fleeing their communities in the North-East of Nigeria as a result of the activities of Boko Haram ended up in military detention camps where they were held by soldiers for several months on the suspicion that they were wives to the terrorists operating in the region.
A number of them did actually go into some form of forced marriage with Boko Haram to save their lives and that of their families. T his placed them in a precarious situation where they were presumed guilty of collaboration with the insurgents and treated like terrorists.
The latest report published by Amnesty International on the conflict zone revealed that as the Nigeria military started recapturing territories hitherto under the control of the insurgents, it started arresting women and girls caught in the crossfire, detained them under inhuman conditions while screening them for the slightest traces they might have with the terrorists. “At the start of 2017, there were approximately 1,000 women detained in Giwa Barracks. Women were held in three cells. Children up to five were held with women, at which point boys were transferred to a separate children’s cell. Girls remained with their mothers.
The vast majority of the women and girls Amnesty International interviewed, who had been released, said they were detained for between six months and two years. “None of those interviewed were ever charged, brought before a court, or tried or convicted of any crime. None knew of any other women in the barracks who had been charged or brought before a court.
Only seven of those interviewed said they were given a reason for their detention; they were told it was because they were a “Boko Haram wife”, with no further explanation. Some were adolescents at the time of detention. Most women were detained with their children.
“Since 2015, there have been at least 1,200 women released from Giwa barracks. Most women and girls were freed in a series of mass releases over the course of the year, or in January 2018. According to testimonies gathered from women released in January 2018 (the last time women or girls were released from Giwa barracks that Amnesty International is aware of), there were 10 women and girls remaining in detention – none of whom had been charged with a crime or been given access to a court,” the report said.
Testimonies of 11 women captured by the report showed that they had previously been victims of abductions or forced marriages in the hands of Boko Haram members and were detained by the Nigerian military after they were found with Boko Haram members during military operations, or after they had escaped captivity.
These women claimed that they were interrogated repeatedly by the soldiers, but there was no effort to determine through any independent process of investigation, if they had committed a criminal act or to verify their claims that they were victims of Boko Haram.
Twenty-five-year old Abgua (not her real name) from Bama town told Amnesty International that Boko Haram killed her husband when they captured her town in 2014. She fled back to her parents’ village, where she was detained for two months by Boko Haram after shouting at one of their members for the misery that they had caused her and her family. Abgua said that during this time, she was repeatedly threatened with execution by Boko Haram members, and was forced to witness the execution of another detainee. Boko Haram members then took her and other detainees to Sambisa forest.
They moved from village to village, each time being chased away by soldiers. She said: “During this time, I was married to a Boko Haram man. It was a forced marriage. I didn’t have a choice; they told me I would marry him.
You have to do as they say or they will kill you.” Abgua was pregnant when she was found by soldiers after they recaptured the village that she was in from Boko Haram. She said she was detained for two and a half months in Bama prison and a year in Giwa barracks where she gave birth, before being released in January 2017.
She said she was only questioned once – the soldiers asked her where she was from and about her husband, they weren’t interested in the rest of her account. Aisha (not her real name), from a village near Bama Town, was only 15 when she was detained by the military along with her baby daughter.
She told Amnesty Inter national that she was found in Sambisa forest near Boko Haram members in or around early 2015 by soldiers during an operation. She explained: “Boko Haram was coming to my parents’ village. After a few months, my father said to me that I had to go with Boko Haram and marry them or they would kill him. So I went… (My new husband) was not a good husband and I was not happy. I went only because I had no choice and they killed people who tried to escape… When the soldiers came, I was in the bushes cooking and washing. There were lots of us, maybe 50.
Most started running away. I raised my hands (to surrender) and so did a few others.” Aisha said the soldiers gathered her and the two other women and three men who had surrendered, and took them to Bama prison. She said that the soldiers who interrogated her did not believe her when she told them that she was in Sambisa forest because she had been forcibly married by Boko Haram: “They said I was a Boko Haram wife.
They asked why I hadn’t come to Bama (town). I tried to explain I couldn’t, and that I was trying to go to the soldiers when they arrived.” The report said that the Nigerian troops manhandled Boko Haram victims they caught in the war ravaged zone.
Families who fled the region and headed for Cameroon also had tales of woes as most of those who were intercepted by Cameroonian forces reported that the men in their group were beaten and robbed by the soldiers. Above all, the women were stripped publicly, sexually assaulted before being sent back to a detention camp in Banki in the Lake Chad region. “Four women interviewed who were intercepted by the Cameroonian military in separate incidents along the border area or in Cameroonian villages around the same period reported that the soldiers forced all the women and girls in their group to remove their clothes before searching them as they stood naked. These incidents mostly occurred in 2016,” the report stated.
Twenty-year-old Kellu (not her real name) told Amnesty International that she fled to the village of Ombasheer in Cameroon in early 2016. On the morning after she arrived she was approached by three Cameroonian soldiers: “They asked where we were from. I said Gala (village). One said ‘where are you going’? Then he said ‘you are Boko Haram women’. We were seven, including my children and two other women… They told us to take off our clothes. Then they said ‘take off your underwear’. So we took off our underwear.
All of us were standing there naked. The soldiers said we should stand. But I was shy, so I sat down. One of the soldiers grabbed me and ordered me to stand up, like the others (in the group). I tried to sit a second time and he beat me and made me stand again. They searched us, but found nothing.
Then searched all our bags, one by one, everything. I had N20,000 in my luggage because I had sold my mattress. They took it. I had no money left. Then they took us to Banki.” One woman also reported that women in her group were raped and sexually humiliated by the Cameroonian military in the Cameroonian town of Kulujiya before transferring them back to Banki camp in Nigeria. She said: “The Cameroonian military told us to remove all our clothes and we were left naked, both men and women.
Some of the women were raped by the military that day, and they raped them anyhow they liked with different sex positions…. (Some of the groups) were raped again (that night) and from there, they kept us naked and told us to open our private parts up and they were laughing at us. That was how they humiliated us.” Both the Presidency and the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) had denied allegations of human rights abuses by the military.
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