Hunt quarry, sex slaves, cannon fodder: Amnesty reports Boko Haram reign of terror

Rachel Daniel, 35, holds up a picture of her abducted daughter Rose Daniel, 17, as her son Bukar, 7, sits beside her at her home in Maiduguri May 21, 2014. Rose was abducted along with more than 200 of her classmates on April 14 by Boko Haram militants from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno state. (Reuters/Joe Penney)
Boko Haram has abducted at least 2,000 women and girls to be forced into marriage, trained as foot soldiers and otherwise abused, a new report by Amnesty International says. The group has been responsible for at least 5,500 civilian deaths since 2014.

The 90-page report, released to commemorate the internationally publicized abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, depicts an abysmal situation in north-east Nigeria, where the militant Boko Haram group has been rampaging to impose their version of Islam.

Amnesty gathered nearly 200 witness accounts, including those of abductees who managed to escape captivity. It also commissioned satellite imagery to verify the level of destruction left in the wake of Boko Haram raids.

“Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions,” commented Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Recent military successes might spell the beginning of the end for Boko Haram, but there is a huge amount to be done to protect civilians, resolve the humanitarian crisis and begin the healing process.”

Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamist group that developed into a prominent threat in Nigeria in 2009. It seeks to impose strict Sunni interpretations of Sharia law and eradicate all Western influence in the country. The group’s many crimes include bombings of Christian churches, raids on towns and refugee camps in northeast Nigeria as well as neighboring countries such as Chad, Niger and Cameroon and abductions of people for ransom or other purposes.

In September 2014, Aisha, 19, was kidnapped from a friend’s wedding along with her sister, the bride and the bride’s sister, she told Amnesty. They were brought to a camp in Gullak, Adamawa state, where some 100 abducted girls were held. A week later the bride and her sister were forced to marry their fighters while Aisha and some other women were put through military drills.

READ MORE: Boko Haram insurgency displaces 800,000 children in N. Nigeria – UNICEF

“They used to train girls how to shoot guns. I was among the girls trained to shoot. I was also trained how to use bombs and how to attack a village,” she told the human rights group. “This training went on for three weeks after we arrived. Then they started sending some of us to operations. I went on one operation to my own village.”

During three months in captivity, Aisha was repeatedly raped, sometimes by groups of Boko Haram men as large as six. She witnessed more than 50 people being killed by the insurgents, her sister among them.

“Some of them refused to convert. Some refused to learn how to kill others. They were buried in a mass grave in the bush. They’ll just pack the dead bodies and dump them in a big hole, but not deep enough. I didn’t see the hole, but we used to get the smell from the dead bodies when they start getting rotten,” she recalled.

Imagery from 17 March 2015, shows extensive damage a neighbourhood that was intact on March 3. Red colour indicates healthy vegetation, while darker colors indicate burned areas.

The raid in which Aisha was captured is one of some 300 documented by Amnesty. During such attacks Boko Haram fighters would first kill police and security forces and then proceed to round up civilians. Those trying to escape would be killed on the spot or hunted down later, witnesses told Amnesty. Men of fighting age could face mass executions on the spot for refusing to join the militants.

“They were slaughtering them with knives. Two men were doing the killing...We all sat on the ground and waited our turn,” Ahmed, 20, told of his own near-execution in December 2014, when Boko Haram seized the town of Madagali in Adamawa State. Ahmed was spared because the knife used for the executions became too dull to cut necks, he added.

In towns living under Boko Haram control strict rules are enforced with draconian brutality, witness said. As women are forbidden to move in public unattended by males, many households rely on children to collect food or on militants to distribute looted food.

READ MORE: Boko Haram uses children as human bombs, ‘expendable cannon fodder’ – UN chief

Violations are punished with public executions, in which children participate. A 15-year-old boy told Amnesty he had witnessed 10 stonings.

“They stone them to death on Fridays. They will gather all the children and ask them to stone. I participated in the stoning…” he said “They will dig a hole, bury all the body and stone the head. When the person dies, they will leave the stones until the body decays.”

The report also includes satellite images showing the amount of damage to towns raided by Boko Haram. In Bama, which was retaken from Boko Haram by the Nigerian army in March 2015, the retreating militants started killing people and burning houses, witnesses said. According to the images, at least 5,900 structures, approximately 70 percent of the town, were either damaged or destroyed, including the hospital.

“The abducted must be rescued, war crimes and crimes against humanity must be investigated. Bodies must be disinterred from mass graves, further killings must be prevented and those guilty of inflicting this unspeakable suffering must be brought to justice,” Amnesty’s Shetty said.