Condemning use of sexual violence, UN envoy warns Boko Haram aims to destroy family structures

A group of refugees in Diffa, Niger, after fleeing Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. Photo: OCHA/Franck Kuwonu

Nigeria, 27 May 2015 – The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has condemned Boko Haram militias in Nigeria for “waging war on women’s physical, sexual and reproductive autonomy and rights” by repeatedly raping their female captors and treating them as vessels for producing children for fighters.

“In this context, sexual violence is not merely incidental, but integral, to their strategy of domination and self-perpetuation,” Zainab Hawa Bangura said in a statement.

“In the stories of those recently released from Boko Haram captivity, I hear poignant echoes of the words of the women and girls I met last month in the Middle East, who had been freed from sexual slavery by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant),” she said. “In both cases, they describe being treated as chattels to be ‘owned’ and traded, and as vessels for producing children for fighters.”

Her statement was issued a little over a year after the extremist group Boko Haram abducted 276 teenage girls in Chibok, Borno State, in Nigeria. Many of them remain in captivity, along with hundreds of others who have been abducted both before and since.

“I am appalled by reports that hundreds of the recently released female captives were repeatedly raped by Boko Haram militias and compelled to ‘marry’ their captors, pursuant to a campaign of forced imprisonment and forced impregnation,” she said.

“These latest revelations suggest that Boko Haram is not only destroying existing family and community structures, but is bent on controlling their future composition,” she underscored. “In order to give rise to a new generation raised in their own image, they are waging war on women’s physical, sexual and reproductive autonomy and rights.”

Saying “these are not isolated atrocities,” Ms. Bangura said, they are part of a wider pattern of women and girls being deliberately targeted by interlinked extremist groups, who share an ideological opposition to the education, rights and freedoms of women.

She reiterated her calls for all abducted women and girls to be immediately released from captivity and returned safely to their families.

Ms. Bangura also called on the Nigerian Government, with support from the international community and local organizations, to provide medical and psychosocial care, including antenatal care to those who have become pregnant, and treatment for those infected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS.

She also urged the international community to adopt a coordinated response that addresses the root causes of violent extremism.

“Supporting the survivors to raise and educate their children in an environment of tolerance, respect and dignity is our best hope of preventing extremists from shattering social cohesion and dictating the future,” she declared.