Urgent Action Needed to Recover Abducted Nigerian School Girls
Washington D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed serious alarm and concern over reports that the Nigerian government has yet to communicate its plan of action to recover more than 230 school girls who were abducted nearly three weeks ago by armed Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau reportedly plans to sell the girls, who have been missing since they were taken by force from the Government Girls Secondary School on April 14, into sex-slavery for as little as $12. Forced marriages of local women to Boko Haram members have become a more common practice by the group.
“We are appalled by the slow response of the Nigerian government to this horrific mass kidnapping,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “It is critical that the U.S. government firmly press and provide support to the Nigerian authorities – as well as support the families of the missing girls and civil society leaders — through shared intelligence, security for schools, and support for rescue and reintegration of the girls.”
Members of Congress have condemned the abduction in a bipartisan resolution, S. 433, sponsored by Senators Landrieu, Boxer, Inhofe, Durbin, and Menendez.
Keeping the spotlight on the fate of the girls through public action from the international community and within Nigeria is critical to pressing the authorities to act to confront this crisis and ensure that the government does not respond, as it did initially, by arresting protesters. As Nigerian civil society activists call for effective action to rescue the girls and to bring their abductors to justice, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria should be consulting these civil society activists and make clear that the U.S. government supports independent civil society in Nigeria. Additionally, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewell should reach out to representatives of the family members of the missing girls and independent civil society activists working on the issue during her upcoming trip to Nigeria to discuss how the United States can provide additional assistance to support women and girls accessing their rights.
Boko Haram claims to have kidnapped the girls, ages 15 to 18, in opposition to the schooling of girls, claiming that “western education is sinful.” The Nigerian authorities have been widely criticized for human rights excesses in tackling Boko Haram, which has made the group stronger. Nigeria’s police have reported that more than 300 girls were abducted and 53 girls have since escaped. The fate of the abducted girls is still unknown, although there are reports that they have been sold into “marriage” or trafficked across Nigeria’s porous borders to a similar fate outside the country.
Human Rights First also urges the United States government to reexamine how it supports Nigerian counterterrorism operations. Nigeria is a key strategic partner for the United States in combating Islamic extremism in the Sahel and West Africa – a region of increasing importance in the global struggle against violent Islamic extremism. But if government actions lack popular legitimacy, both human rights and security will be undermined. Better coordinated efforts of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, USAID, along with more attention to the rule of law underpinning security are required.