International Insights

A current affairs blog about international law and policy issues published by the Journal of Transnational Law & Policy

Africa, human trafficking, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights

Our Girls Were Brought Back, but Only to a Nightmare

Contributor: Marlie Blaise*

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. –Martin Luther King, Jr. This principle describes the tumultuous dilemma in Nigeria. Boko Haram, a Nigerian-based terrorist group, has caused and continues to produce destruction in Nigeria, which as a result, has had a drastic impact on states nearby and nations globally.[1] Boko Haram is a Muslim-based group whose principals are grounded against western education.[2] The term Boko Haram itself means “western education is forbidden”.[3] This group was originally established in 1995, and since then, have claimed the lives of hundreds of Nigerian people through various attacks targeting Nigerian government officials, Christians, non-Muslim faiths, and even Muslims whose ideology and beliefs do not match Boko Harams’ radical convictions.[4]

One of the more known attacks that caught the attention of nations globally occurred in 2013 and became popularly known as a social media hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls.[5] In 2013, Boko Haram was responsible for the kidnapping of over 200 school girls in Nigeria.[6] As previously mentioned, the terrorist group opposes the idea of western education, but the group is strongly against women receiving an education.[7] Boko Haram beliefs are that women and young girls should be at home.[8] As they kidnapped these schoolgirls, they turned them into servants.[9] Many of the girls were forced to become wives and coerced into having sex with the men of Boko Haram.[10] This epidemic lasted for years.[11] The servant status forced upon these girls was clearly a violation of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which insists that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude, and that slavery and servitude shall be prohibited in all their forms.[12] Luckily, some of the girls were able to escape and go on to tell their stories.[13] Unfortunately, many of the victims who either escaped or were rescued did not have a home to return to, and have been retained in Internally Displaced Persons (“IDP”) camps throughout Nigeria.[14]

While the abduction of these school girls by Boko Haram itself is worrisome, there is something more alarming that should be fixated as the center of attention.[15] Many of these women and girls who are displaced and put into the IDP camps are suffering human right violations at the hands of the Nigerian government.[16] Not only are these women and girls not receiving the needed support for the trauma that they have suffered, but they are also being sexually exploited and raped by camp leaders, vigilant groups, policemen, and soldiers.[17] In July 2016, Human Rights Watch documented 43 women and girls living in a displaced camp in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, and the victims claimed to have had severely restricted movement.[18] This is clearly a violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.[19]

Many of the victims have disclosed similar stories. While they were at the camp, they were drugged, passed out, and awakened to a pain between their legs which lasted for days and prohibited them from walking.[20] Other victims expressed that they were coerced into sex through false marriage promises along with material, financial, or nutritional assistance, given that the camp only allowed them to have one meal per day.[21] It became a cycle; the victims would become pregnant by a government official and were abandoned once it was exposed that they were pregnant.[22] While these women and girls have the desire to report the men, they claimed that they felt powerless and feared retaliation if they reported the abuse.[23] Despite this, some have reported the abuse to Nigerian government officials, but expressed that nothing has been done about it.[24]

These are the day-to-day lives of many displaced girls and women throughout Nigeria.[25] Aside from dealing with the sexual exploitation, these victims are also being denied basic human rights.[26] The IDPs have an irregular supply of food, clothing, medicine, and other essentials, along with restricted movement in the camps.[27] Moreover, they tend to face the scorn and judgment of other individuals of the camp despite the horrible predicaments they were placed in prior to their arrival at the camp.[28]

Many of the women also explained that, although the Nigerian military came to rescue them, it did not feel like a rescue operation.[29] Nigerian soldiers came and burned the huts down in which they were being harbored by Boko Haram and shot at everyone, including the children.[30] If they were not placed in displaced camps, many of the girls were loaded into pickup trucks and dumped in the desert where they were interrogated and searched for weapons.[31] Instead of being treated as victims, they were now perceived as suspects.[32] The Nigerian government feared that the victims were now converted to Boko Haram’s ideology and could be a danger or threat to the rest of the Nigerian general population.[33]

A Humans Right Adviser, Martin Ejidike, warned that because the victims have been subjected to further discrimination as a result of their status of being kidnapped by Boko Haram, violence will continue to challenge the response to this situation in the Northeast.[34] This statement may prove to be true.[35] Most recently, in July 2017, at least twenty-three people were killed in internally displaced camps after two female suicide bombers entered the camp.[36] The attack took place in Maiduguri, in Northeastern Nigeria, a city known as the birthplace of Boko Haram.[37]

Citizens of Nigeria are experiencing widespread human rights violations because of Boko Haram and their kidnapping scheme and employment of suicide bombers into internally displaced camps to carry out deadly attacks, and because of the Nigerian government officials who are supposed to protect the victims, but who are instead raping and sexually exploiting them. To put an end to such violations, the Nigerian government needs to control the national military. The military must not only be equipped and prepared to take out a terrorist group like Boko Haram; they also must be held responsible for the coercion and sexual exploitation to deter other Nigerian government officials from engaging in the same activity. Most importantly, the state must ensure the rights of these citizens are upheld. Nigeria needs a lot of help. With the continued assistance of international actors, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Nations, Nigeria can reform its government which would enhance security, deplete public sector corruption, and bring an end to the human rights violations throughout the country.


*Contributor, Marlie Blaise studies at the Florida State University College of Law in the U.S. She is currently completing her 3rd year of law school and will graduate in the Spring of 2018.


[1] April E. Ness, Boko Haram: A Textbook Case for Designation As a Terrorist Organization and its Terroristic Threat to International Freedom, 14 Rutgers J. L. & Religion 498 – 99 (2013).

[2] Id.

[3] BBC News, Nigeria’s Boko Haram ‘Sends Girls to Front Line’ (Oct. 27, 2014), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29782397.

[4] Ness, supra.

[5] Dionne Searcy, After Boko Haram Releases Nigerian Girls, an Anguished Wait for Parents, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/07/world/africa/nigeria-chibok-boko-haram-.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Vladimir Duthiers, Boko Haram: Why Terror Groups Kidnap Schoolgirls, and What Happens, CNN (May 2, 2014). http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/24/world/africa/nigeria-kidnapping-answers/index.html.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A (III) (Dec. 10, 1948) http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.

[13] Id.

[14] Human Rights Watch, Nigeria: Officials Abusing Displaced Women, Girls Displaced by Boko Haram and Victims Twice Over, (Oct. 31, 2016) https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/31/nigeria-officials-abusing-displaced-women-girls.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A (V) (Dec. 10, 1948) http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.

[20] Human Rights Watch, supra.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Kevin Sieff, They Were Freed from Boko Haram’s Rape Camps. But their Nightmare Isn’t Over, The Wash. Post (April 3, 2016) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/they-were-freed-from-boko-harams-rape-camps-but-their-nightmare-isnt-over/2016/04/03/dbf2aab0-e54f-11e5-a9ce-681055c7a05f_story.html?utm_term=.9c822005ff97.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Al Jazeera, IDP Camps in Nigeria ‘Hit By Suicide Bombers’, (July 24, 2017) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/idp-camps-nigeria-hit-suicide-bombers-170724090127650.html.

[37] Id.

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