Where Are Nigeria’s Missing Girls?
A year after they were kidnapped by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok remain missing, with no sign that the current or future government is any closer to finding them. The one year anniversary signals a new realism on a tragedy that attracted worldwide attention on Boko Haram for the first time after years of killings. CNBC Africa’s Esther Awoniyi spoke to Steve Crawshaw, Director of the Secretary General Office at Amnesty International.
AWONIYI: It’s been exactly one year since the Chibok girls were kidnapped, it appears the bring back our girls campaign has lost some steam. Many believe it simply hasn’t been enough to spur the kind of action, on a global scale, that’s needed to find the girls.
From your perspective, what more can we be doing and how can we take this a notch higher? Crawshaw: I hate that we can’t take this notch higher.
The #bringbackourgirls campaign has been incredibly important and I welcome the fact we’re putting great emphasis on this today, the first anniversary of this terrible crime. We are also trying to put this into a broader context: we’ve seen that more than two hundred were abducted but over more than two thousand are in terrible suffering.
To be honest, much too little is being done. Infact, not too long ago we also saw very serious violations by the Nigerian military. Amnesty International is documenting these very serious violations on both sides.
I think the new government under president-elect Buhari has shown a clear willingness to be more robust to address the terrible suffering which we have seen and most clearly ensure protection of civilians, and he’s also talking about accountability which is very important as we move forward.
Awoniyi: But General Buhari has said he’s making no promises, and he said quite frankly that the government doesn’t know where these girls are.
He will do all he can within his disposal to find the girls, but actually there’s the possibility these girls may never be found. Crawshaw: It will be absolutely wrong to promise that.
The importance of these two hundred girls still in captivity is huge, we need to see this also as a way of reminding people how many have been affected. One, two thousand and a million more lives in the north-of Nigeria have been affected by this so I think the Chibok girls themselves have become the emblem. The government needs to see this as a really huge problem for all of Nigeria and for the Region as well.
Nigeria needs to address this in a much more systematic way that involves the protection of civilians and providing humanitarian assistance for those suffering, and ensuring real accountability – perhaps involving the International Criminal Court.
Awoniyi: Amnesty International has just released a report documenting the atrocities being committed by Boko Haram against civilians in the north-east.
You say that over two thousand girls have been kidnapped since the beginning of 2014, tell us the specifics of how you were able to arrive at this number? Crawshaw: We’ve done a number of reporting missions in the north-east, also there have been telephone conversations to follow-up.
A number of face-to-face interviews with both the relatives, and those who have been in captivity and able to tell their stories, those truly carrying the stories of rape, forced marriage and stories of girls forced to become fighters themselves – that is like a second level of brutalisation. Very shocking stories and clearly showing patterns of abuse.
Amnesty International is always looking for first-hand testimonies. We are also looking at patterns, not just individual stories but at the patterns which are very disturbing. Awoniyi: But Steve, Amnesty International believes the response to this humanitarian crisis has been rather poor.
Now let’s talk specifics, what more would you like to see the Nigerian government do? And for the victims of those towns and villages that have been recaptured by the military, how do we begin the process of healing? Crawshaw: I think the rebuilding is incredibly important, the psychological and the physical rebuilding.
Amnesty International has used satellite photography on a couple of the worst attacks we’ve witnessed by Boko Haram. Some seventy percent of the structures in Baga and Bama have been destroyed; thousands of buildings have been destroyed.
More than five thousand people have been killed since the beginning of last year – we have seen so many lives destroyed. You need to rebuild people’s lives, you need to help the economy get going, and then you need to support the people.
Those most directly affected in the most terrific way – abducted and rescued – need support of a different kind. I think it really needs the engagement of Nigerians because if not we’re just going to sweep this under the carpet, which is what was tended to happen before.
I am hopeful; we are certainly hearing good noises and taking this more seriously. We strongly welcome the fact that president-elect Buhari has spoken of the need to ensure accountability moving forward.
Accountability and justice can play such an important role in providing a kind of healing as you move forward, as well as the physical sense of rebuilding lives. Awoniyi: Finally, and talking about justice – there is an ongoing preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court on the situation in north-east Nigeria.
What are your expectations, and how much of a head-way will the ICC make in its final outcome? Crawshaw: If you had asked me some months ago, I would have been quite pessimistic, there seemed to be no sense of justice at all. We’re glad to hear the new Nigerian leadership talk of accountability, including crimes committed by the military.
There’s no point having crimes on one side being addressed and not on the other. These are very serious war crimes, crimes against humanity. The nature of the severity and violations are systematic and that puts it in the category of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. We have to see justice, there’s no question about that for all the people of the north-east, for Nigeria itself.