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Amnesty International accuses Nigerian Army of continued illegal detention of children in Northeast

FOR children fleeing from Boko Haram attacks in northeast Nigeria, their struggle for survival suffers setbacks from arbitrary detention to gross violations at the hands of the military.

This revelation is contained in a new report published on Wednesday by the Amnesty International.

Titled “We dried our tears: Addressing the toll on children of Northeast Nigeria’s conflict,” the report chronicles the activities of the Nigerian Army as soldiers engaged in widespread detention and torture of children who had escaped after been recruited or abducted by Boko Haram insurgents.

Joanne Mariner, Acting Director of Crisis Response at AI said in a statement that the military’s continued brutality is exposing children in the region to psychological trauma, an act that contradicts their role as protectors of children.

“The past decade of bitter conflict between Nigeria’s military and Boko Haram has been an assault on childhood itself in Northeast Nigeria.

“The Nigerian authorities risk creating a lost generation unless they urgently address how the war has targeted and traumatised thousands of children,” she said.

According to her, the Nigerian military’s treatment of those who escape brutality of the Boko Haram insurgent has been appalling.

“From mass, unlawful detention in inhumane conditions, to meting out beatings and torture and allowing sexual abuse by adult inmates – it defies belief that children anywhere would be so grievously harmed by the very authorities charged with their protection,” she said.

She said the traumatised children would more likely heal, if soldiers refrain from brutality.

AI had interviewed more than 230 people affected by the conflict including 119 children that had suffered dehumanisation by Boko Haram, the Nigerian military, or both.

“Of this number 48 children were held in military detention for months or years, as well as 22 adults who had been detained with children,” the report noted.

The report accuses the Nigerian authorities of a flagrant breach of international law by causing irreversible harm to children.

A 17-year-old girl featured in the report said she was abducted by Boko Haram insurgents from Michika town, when she was 12, after being tortured and imprisoned by the fighters who separated her from her grandmother, despite having a psychosocial disability.

“There, they made us recite the Qur’an and would lash those who couldn’t because I stammer in my speech, it was difficult to cope, and they beat me every day—60 lashes,” she said.

Accounts of several survivors show that Nigerian military did as much damage to the victims of insurgency as Boko Haram.

The United Nations, UN, has documented more than 3,600 cases of children being detained between January 2013 and March 2019 for alleged involvement with Boko Haram, including 1,617 girls.

Another 18-year-old man identified in the report said he was recruited by Boko Haram at 13 and trained as a fighter but grew tired of the “disunity” between factions and the group’s violence against civilians which led to his escape from the group and surrender to the military.

He said he was taken to Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, where, he experienced horrific torture at the hands of the soldiers.

“The conditions in Giwa are horrible. They could make you die. There’s no place to lie down… It’s hot, all your clothes were wet like they put you in a river. Up to now, nobody has told me why I was taken there, what I did, why I was in detention. I wonder, why did I run from [Boko Haram]?” he said.

Hundreds of interviews featured in the report revealed that men and children detained in Giwa barrack are sometimes kept together in a cell, where sexual abuse of the minors thrives.

Osai Ojigho, Director of AI Nigeria also blamed international donors for bankrolling a flawed military programme ” Safe Corridor” that claims to reintegrate former fighters but allows unlawful detention of children and adults.

“None of the major donors to ‘Safe Corridor’ would sanction such a system of prolonged and unlawful detention for its own citizens, so why do they do so in Nigeria?” she said.

Urging the Nigerian military to release children who were detained arbitrarily saying they had also experienced such inhumane conditions in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents.

“Nigeria’s armed forces must release all children being arbitrarily detained and halt other violations that appear aimed at punishing thousands of children, many of whom were also victims of Boko Haram’s atrocities,” she said.

Reacting to the accusation of the global rights body, Sagir Musa spokesperson of the Nigerian Army told The ICIR that the operations of the rehabilitation programme “Safe Corridor” should not be blamed on the Nigerian Army since it was a programme coordinated by the Defence headquarters.

“The army does not carry not run the operations “Safe Corridor” so it is not fair to say the army is involved in illegal detention of minors when that programme is entirely run by the Defence headquarters. I think you should direct that question to the Defence headquarters,” he said.

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