Report: Boko Haram Has Claimed More Than 1,000 Lives in 2015
8-year-old Hadjara was shot in the arm by Boko Haram as her family fled their town in Nigeria in February 2015. They made the journey to freedom across Lake Chad and she had her arm amputated on arrival at Baga Sola, Chad. (Julian Simmonds/Rex Features via AP Images)
Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 civilians in 2015, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch finding that the pace of attacks by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group is up when compared to the same period a year ago.
“Boko Haram fighters have deliberately attacked villages and committed mass killings and abductions as their attacks have spread from northeast Nigeria into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger since February,” according to the report, published on Thursday.
The rights organization was able to interview civilians fleeing Boko Haram attacks across the northeast of the country, where the extremist group has seized control of several towns and villages.
“Each week that passes we learn of more brutal Boko Haram abuses against civilians,” said Mausi Segun, a Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Almost 1 million Nigerians have been forced to leave their homes since Boko Haram began its insurgency in 2009, according to Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 3,750 civilians died in 2014 alone. Those who survive and are captured by Boko Haram are often forcibly conscripted into its ranks if they are male, or raped, forced into marriage, converted to Islam or made to suffer other abuses if they are female.
Human Rights Watch also provided new details on efforts to beat back Boko Haram. As FRONTLINE reported last fall in Hunting Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces have operated alongside brutal civilian militias in the fight against the organization. Both the militias and members of Nigeria’s security forces have been accused of carrying out human rights abuses while hunting for Boko Haram fighters among the civilian population.
“People are afraid of the military and security forces as much as they are afraid of the insurgents,” Shehu Sani, the president of the Civil Rights Congress, a coalition of over 30 human rights groups in Nigeria, told FRONTLINE last fall. “Innocent people bare the brunt of this insurgency and counterinsurgency,” said Sani.
The Human Rights Watch report documented an incident in December 2014 during which Nigerian soldiers attacked a village and burned most of it down, leaving at least five civilians dead. Residents of the village told the rights group that there were no Boko Haram members or fighters in the village when the army attacked.
Nigerian authorities told Human Rights Watch they were unaware of the incident but would investigate the claims.
“The increased military effort has not made the situation for civilians in northeastern Nigeria any less desperate,” according to Segun of Human Rights Watch.
The report comes just ahead of Nigerian elections, scheduled to take place Saturday. They were originally scheduled for February, but were postponed amid security fears caused by the escalating Boko Haram insurgency. Several African nations including neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger deployed troops to help the Nigerian army fight Boko Haram.
On Friday, a day before the elections, the Nigerian army announced that it had retaken the town of Gwoza, believed to be the headquarters of Boko Haram. The army said Boko Haram fighters had been driven from nearly all the territory they held, though no independent media had verified their statement.
Related Film: Hunting Boko Haram
FRONTLINE investigates Nigeria’s efforts to “Bring Back Our Girls” and fight Boko Haram. Watch Parts 1 and 2 below.