The Nigerian army has been accused of forced abortions and infanticide

A secret abortion program through which more than ten thousand women and girls were terminated against their will and sometimes without their knowledge. Thousands more, some as young as a few years old, fell victim to targeted executions. The perpetrators said, according to Reuters: the Nigerian army. In their fight against the jihadists of Boko Haram, they will not be without even the youngest of them.

The findings come from Reuters’ long-running investigation into the northeastern state of Borno, which has been plagued by Boko Haram violence and kidnappings for more than 13 years. Not for the first time, the military also appears to be ruthless, with soldiers guilty of possible war crimes. As early as 2015, Amnesty International reported extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and enforced disappearances.

Going a step further, the Reuters findings point to a targeted campaign to “cleanse society” of children being treated by Boko Haram fighters, one healthcare provider involved in the alleged abortion program told reporters. Children, whose mothers were often kidnapped and raped by members of the terror group, would be seen by the military as “potential Boko Haram fighters”.

Why should children be accused of this? “If you end their lives, you are denying them the opportunity and the right to refute these allegations,” said Amini Hayata, conflict researcher at Amnesty Nigeria. Hayata has documented numerous crimes committed by soldiers in Borno in recent years. Fresh overtones fit into familiar style. But if they turn out to be true, the scale of these abuses, he says, is shocking.”

“They are not children to me”

Reuters says it has several documents, including patient lists, and has spoken to dozens of witnesses. Not just the victims, but the soldiers, armed militia members, guards and drivers who said they were involved in forced abortions or infant executions.

Some were sorry. others less. Reuters quoted a soldier who killed his best friend at the hands of the jihadists, “They are not children for me.” “They are Boko Haram.”

Women kidnapped by the jihadists and released by the army told Reuters how relieved they felt at first. This relief was short-lived. One mother described how soldiers strangled her newborn twins in front of her eyes. Another way how pregnant women and teenagers who refused to have an abortion were beaten, at gunpoint or drugged. Others were given pills and injections without knowing their purpose.

Abortion is only permitted in Nigeria if the mother’s life is in danger.

The army chief has strongly denied these allegations. He does not want to “waste his energy” on an investigation – which, among other things, has been called for by the UN Secretary-General. Earlier, a lengthy press release from the military spoke of “fictional stories” intended to “demonize” Nigerian institutions.

“Denial alone is not enough,” said Hayatah of Amnesty International. “Certainly not when you look at their track record.”

Amnesty went to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2015. Five years later, the prosecutor there decided he saw sufficient cause to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity. But no actual investigation has yet been opened.

Hard to distinguish

Since 2009, northeastern Nigeria has been the epicenter of a jihadist uprising led by Boko Haram, which later split into different factions and became famous for, among other things, the kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in Chibok. The conflict has already claimed more than 350,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates. Because of violence, but also because of hunger and disease. About two million more people fled. The army also suffered heavy losses.

“Between 2013 and 2016 in particular, the army was under tremendous pressure and overwhelmed people suspected of belonging to Boko Haram,” said Vincent Foucher, a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in Bordeaux. This was especially when it launched a major counter-offensive in 2015 and captured entire areas from the jihadists. Thousands of people, including civilians not affiliated with Boko Haram, have been arrested.

“It was very difficult for the soldiers to distinguish one from the other,” says Foucher, a researcher on the terrorist movement. “At that time, there were already many accounts of men being executed or being sent to prison for a long time without due process, and being held there in very harsh conditions.” According to a 2015 Amnesty report, more than 7,000 men and boys have died in custody since 2011.

The Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri are particularly famous. These barracks are also reflected in the testimonies of women who told Reuters they were forced to have abortions here. According to Futcher, this is unimaginable. “There is a strong belief in the north that Boko Haram’s children are infected,” says the researcher. “In fact, I suspect that the people who organized this system felt that they were helping women. There was a belief that Boko Haram fighters raped women on a large scale and that they would be discriminated against if they returned with a child.”

The commander of the army’s counterterrorism operations in the northeast told Reuters he was not in Nigeria. “We respect women and children. We respect every living soul.”

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