The use of British troops to train Nigerian forces must be reviewed after it emerged soldiers are subjecting women and girls escaping from Boko Haram to “vile abuse”, according to a report published on Thursday.
Nigerian security forces have carried out “systematic patterns of violence and abuse” against the young women and children they claim to have rescued, alleges Amnesty International.
Women told Amnesty they were raped in exchange for food and thousands of people, including children, have starved to death in camps set up by the Nigerian army after they were freed.
But the human rights charity also blames British forces for not doing enough to protect women and girls.
“If it turns out that British troops have been training or supporting any of the units involved in these crimes, a UK investigation must immediately take place and British military training to those units should be suspended” said Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty UK’s military, security and policing programme director.
“This evidence must serve as an urgent warning to the UK government and the British forces currently training and supporting a military that is using its power to horrifically abuse the very people it’s meant to be protecting”, he warned.
The report, entitled ‘They betrayed us’, is the result of a two-year investigation and interviews with more than 250 people. It examines what happened to the hundreds of thousands of people, especially women, who fled or were forced from areas controlled by Boko Haram.
In some cases, the abuse appears to be part of a pattern of persecution of anyone perceived to have a connection to Boko Haram. Women reported being beaten and called “Boko Haram wives” by the security officials when they complained about their treatment.
The report says women and girls were selected for soldiers to abuse. Women reported they were too afraid to refuse demands for sex.
“It is absolutely shocking that people who had already suffered so much under Boko Haram have been condemned to further horrendous abuse by the Nigerian military,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with around 180 million people and its second largest economy. Trade with the UK is worth £4 billion a year. The Department for International Development’s aid budget for Nigeria was £225 million last year.
However, conflict blights the oil-rich delta region and there is a violent Islamist insurgency in the north-east of the country. The Foreign Office warns that the risk of terrorist kidnaps is high and advises visitors to avoid places where there are political or other large public gatherings.
Theresa May met with President Buhari of Nigeria at Downing Street in April, where she reiterated the two countries’ “close and longstanding” defence and security cooperation. The Prime Minister said she was saddened so many girls had been affected by the security situation in Nigeria.
Around 70 British military personnel train Nigerian forces in leadership and general infantry skills. They provide specific training to combat gender-based violence.
A Government spokesperson said: "The military training and assistance to the Armed Forces of Nigeria has consistently emphasised the importance of adherence to internationally recognised Rules of Engagement, as well as the importance of International Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.”
Boko Haram is an Islamist terrorist group operating in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The group has been fighting a nine-year insurgency to establish a sharia state and remove western influence from the country. It pledged allegiance to Isil in 2015.
How the Nigerian government is fuelling Boko Haram's kidnapping industry
In March Boko Haram used small arms, anti-aircraft weapons and rocket propelled grenades to attack a military base. Nine members of the Nigerian security forces and three UN personnel were killed.
In February three suicide bombers detonated devices at a fish market in the town of Konduga. Nineteen civilians were killed and over 70 others wounded.
Boko Haram kidnapped around 300 girls from their school in the north-western town of Chibok in 2014, as they gathered to take exams. The militants objected to them receiving education, claiming it corrupted Muslim values. Some girls managed to escape and around 100 were controversially freed last year in exchange for five militants commanders, in negotiations brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
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