The group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009, and intensified abductions since May 2013, when Nigeria imposed a state of emergency in areas where Boko Haram is most active.
The new 63-page report, “‘Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp’: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria,” is based on interviews with more than 46 witnesses and victims of Boko Haram abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, including with girls who escaped the April 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok secondary school. Their statements suggest that the Nigerian government has failed to adequately protect women and girls from a myriad of abuses, provide them with effective support and mental health and medical care after captivity, ensure access to safe schools, or investigate and prosecute those responsible for the abuses.
“The Chibok tragedy and #Bring Back Our Girls campaign focused much-needed global attention to the horrific vulnerability of girls in northeastern Nigeria,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Now the Nigerian government and its allies need to step up their efforts to put an end to these brutal abductions and provide for the medical, psychological, and social needs of the women and girls who have managed to escape.”
In addition to speaking to women and girls who had been abducted, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed social workers, members of Nigerian and international nongovernmental organizations, diplomats, journalists, religious leaders, and state and federal government officials.
The April 14 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, a rural town in Borno State, was the biggest single incident of abductions by Boko Haram. However, Boko Haram has abducted numerous other people, both before and since Chibok. The relative ease with which Boko Haram carried out the Chibok abductions seems to have emboldened it to step up abductions elsewhere.
Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff Alex Badeh announced on October 17 a ceasefire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram. Hassan Tukur, an aide to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, reported that there was also an agreement for the release of the girls who had been taken from Chibok. Coordinator of the National Information Center, Mike Omeri, however, later said that the schoolgirls’ release was still under negotiation.
While Boko Haram has taken some victims arbitrarily, it seems to target students and Christians, in particular. The group threatens victims with whipping, beating, or death unless they convert to Islam, stop attending school, and wear the veil or hijab. Boko Haram translates roughly from the Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden” religiously.