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Amnesty Int’l: Senior citizens, worst victims of terrorism

…accuses military, B/Haram of dehumanising older people

Amnesty International (AI), yesterday, disclosed that older people were among the worst casualties of the Boko Haram conflict that has raged for almost a decade in the North-East region of Nigeria.

The global human rights watchdog said older people have suffered in unique ways from the conflict, with many starved or slaughtered in their homes while others were left to languish and die in squalid, unlawful military detentions.

In a new report released yesterday, Amnesty International said that the recent massacre of about 43 rice farmers in Koshobe Village, Zarbarmari District of Borno State, exemplifies the many years of repression and abuse of older people by the armed group In the 67-page report titled: “My Heart Is In Pain,” AI chronicles the experiences of older people trapped in the conflict and subjected to displacement, detention and avoidable fatalities. The report shows how both Boko Haram and the Nigerian military have committed atrocities against older women and men, with nobody held to account.

It also focuses on how displaced older people are consistently excluded in the humanitarian response process. Director of Crisis Response at AI, Joanne Mariner, said that when Boko Haram invaded towns and villages, older men and women have often been among the last to flee, leaving them particularly exposed to the armed group’s brutality and repression.

Mariner said these repressive acts of the terrorists amounted to war crimes and likely crimes against humanity. “This has included torture, being forced to witness killings and abductions of their children, as well as looting resulting in extreme food insecurity.

“Nigeria’s military, in turn, has repeatedly shot older people to death in their own homes during raids on villages in Boko Haram-controlled areas. Thousands of older people have been denied dignity in hellish conditions in military detention, with many hundreds of them dying in squalor.

These, too, amount to war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity,” Mariner said. According to the report, many villages in areas under Boko Haram control are disproportionately populated by older people who are unable to flee or who choose to stay and continue working on their land to fend for themselves.

In these villages, the report said, older people face threats from all sides. “Boko Haram loots their property and often restricts older women’s movement, making it harder for families to earn money and feed themselves. Boko Haram also abducts or kills their children and grandchildren, and sometimes tortures or kills the older people themselves. “Boko Haram’s looting of harvests and livestock, combined with the military’s severe restrictions on aid access, has resulted in extreme food insecurity for older people, with AI receiving reports of many dying of starvation,” the report said.

The group relayed the testimony of an 80-yearold woman from a village in Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State. The old woman who narrated her ordeal in the hands of the terrorists paints a gloomy picture of a helpless situation.

“Boko Haram asked why I was still around when others had run away… I told them it was my house and I was not scared of dying. Some of them said instead of killing me, they’d put me in permanent pain.

They brought out their knife and stabbed me in my foot, leaving a big gash,” the woman said. AI also alleged that the Nigerian military has consistently failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in its operations against Boko Haram. According to the rights group, the military at times even deliberately targets civilians in what could be termed a war crime.

The report said that many older people with limited mobility are unable to flee and have been shot and killed or seriously injured when soldiers spray bullets through houses. Others have been burnt to death inside their homes when the military torched villages perceived to support Boko Haram.

In the same report, a man in his late 50s from a village in Bama LGA, Borno State, described a Nigerian military attack on his village in the following narrative: “They came in the night. My father was an older man – more than 75. I said we should run to the bush. He said he couldn’t, he was too old. We came back, about 2a.m. He had bullets all in his body.

We took the body to the farm area, and we buried it there.” Amnesty also alleged that older people were not spared the military’s “widespread unlawful detention” of people fleeing Boko Haram areas – even without any evidence that the person was linked to the armed group, much less involved in violence.

It interviewed 17 older men and nine older women who were “unlawfully detained” – for periods ranging from four months to more than five years – in unfathomably inhumane conditions in Maiduguri’s infamous Giwa Barracks and other sites. Amnesty International estimates that, in the context of the Boko Haram crisis, at least 10,000 people have died in custody since 2011, many of them in Giwa Barracks. The organization reviewed more than 120 images of corpses brought from the barracks to a local mortuary, and spoke to individuals with insider knowledge who estimated that 15-25% of those who have perished are older men.

This is disproportionately high, as older men appear to account for no more than four per cent (4%) of the population in North-East Nigeria. In April 2017 alone, 166 corpses were transferred from Giwa to the mortuary.

The report also examines the humanitarian response to the conflict, and calls for older people to be fully included in the design and implementation of humanitarian programmes to assist those persons displaced by the war. Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, observed that in the displacement camps, the failure to ensure that humanitarian aid was adequate and reached some of the most at-risk people, including older people, has led to the violation of their human rights.

“All too often, older people have been ignored in aid provision in North- East Nigeria. Inclusion means respecting the rights of people with different needs and risks, including those associated with ageing. It is time to stop treating older people as an afterthought,” said Ojigho. Amnesty International said its researchers spoke to older people from 17 camps across Borno State and none of them had received targeted assistance as an older person. They felt invisible or as if they were treated as a “burden”. Some reported having to beg just to have enough food and medicine to survive. Others said they were forced to go without essential medication.

 

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