GENEVA (8 May 2014) – A group of United Nations and African human rights experts on Thursday called on the Boko Haram armed group to immediately release the girls abducted in Borno State, Nigeria. The experts also urged the Nigerian Government to take all necessary measures to ensure their safe return and to hold the perpetrators accountable.
On 14 April, many girls – more than 200 according to different sources – were abducted at gunpoint from their secondary school during a violent raid by Boko Haram in the village of Chibok, Borno State, in the northeast of Nigeria. On 6 May, further abductions were reported in the villages of Warabe and Wala, in Borno State, perpetrated also by Boko Haram.
The international and regional experts called on Boko Haram to stop these abhorrent crimes, and urged Nigeria to strengthen efforts consistent with human rights to protect its people. “Ensuring the return of the girls and holding perpetrators accountable will contribute to ending impunity. It will also send a strong message that Nigeria places paramount importance on the protection of girls,” they said.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid, condemned the outrageous public admission made in a video by the Boko Haram leader, assuming responsibility for the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls and claiming that he will sell them in the market and marry them off.
“The sale of children, including for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced marriage and sexual slavery constitutes an intolerable crime, and is prohibited by international law,” she said.
“Nigeria must adopt strong measures to ensure the return of the child victims and to protect their rights and interests, including access to child-sensitive justice, effective remedy and reparation,” Ms. Maalla M’jid stressed.
The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, noted that forced early marriages result in servile marriages in which other forms of slavery such as domestic servitude and sexual slavery take place.
“Enslavement, including sexual slavery, can constitute crimes against humanity,” Ms. Shahinian warned. “The Nigerian authorities hold primary responsibility to prevent these crimes and to conduct investigations when such crimes occur.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, reminded the Nigerian Government of its due diligence obligation to prevent and punish acts of violence against women and girls, and protect and provide redress to victims. “Indifference or inaction is a form of encouragement or de facto license to non-State actors to commit horrendous acts of violence with impunity,” she said.
“Nigeria should also prevent and combat the possible trafficking of these girls that could result from their abduction,” the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ngozi Ezeilo underscored.
Ms Frances Raday, who currently chairs the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, emphasized that “child marriage, contrary to international human rights law, exposes girls to physical, sexual and psychological abuse, creates severe health risks for those subject to the practice, and destroys their opportunities for education and work. The State of Nigeria has the obligation to provide redress to the victims, and prosecute and punish the perpetrators. Forcing the schoolgirls into early marriage constitutes a severe violation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Soyata Maiga, described the abduction as “a heinous crime,” recalling that the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa specifies 18 years as the minimum age of marriage, and deplores any marriage without free and full consent of both parties.
“Nigeria has the obligation to ensure the immediate release of the abducted girls, provide the necessary counselling following the traumatic experience, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Commissioner Maiga said. The Country Rapporteur for Nigeria added that this deplorable matter is currently being considered by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with a view to determining a strategic intervention.
The group of international and regional human rights experts noted the efforts being deployed by the Nigerian authorities, and conveyed its sympathy to the victims’ families.