Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday said the Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children in degrading and inhuman conditions for suspected involvement with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram.
In a statement by the group as a precursor to the release of a new report, the rights defenders said many children are held without charge for months or years in squalid and severely overcrowded military barracks, with no contact with the outside world.
It said the 50-page report, “‘They Didn’t Know if I Was Alive or Dead’: Military Detention of Children for Suspected Boko Haram Involvement in Northeast Nigeria,” documents how Nigerian authorities are detaining children, often based on little or no evidence.
They claim children described beatings, overwhelming heat, frequent hunger, and being packed tightly in their cells with hundreds of other detainees “like razorblades in a pack,” as one former detainee said.
“Children are being detained in horrific conditions for years, with little or no evidence of involvement with Boko Haram, and without even being taken to court,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
HRW said the Nigerian government should sign and put into effect a United Nations handover protocol to ensure the swift transfer of children apprehended by the military to child protection authorities for rehabilitation, family reunification, and community reintegration.
Allegations false – DHQ
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in response to HRW said it has noted with deep concern that while troops of the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) are intensifying effort to ensure lasting peace in the North East (NE).
Defence spokesman, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu said in a statement that the report is not only false but capable of undermining the joint efforts of the Armed Forces and other security agencies to restore peace in the NE.
He said it is an established fact that Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) indoctrinate women and children who they use as suicide bombers in the theatre of operations.
He said contrary to HRW claims, the AFN manages children in the North East theatre as victims of war and not as suspects.
Nwachukwu said this was evidently captured in the HRW Report, where it stated that “since January 2013, Nigerian Authorities have released at least 2,200 children from detention nearly all without charge.”
He said no children are kept and tortured in any detention facility.’
‘Report seeking sympathy for B/Haram’
The Centre for Social Justice, Equity and Transparency (CESJET) has accused the Human Rights Watch (HRW) of seeking sympathy for Boko Haram insurgents with ‘fake report’.
The group was replying to a 50-page report by the HRW accusing the military of detaining over 3000 under-aged Boko Haram fighters.
The Executive Secretary of CESJET, Comrade Ikpa Isaac on Tuesday called on authorities to and the rest of the world to disregard the Human Rights Watch’s report.