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Amnesty International says Nigerian army detains girls who escape from Boko Haram

AMNESTY International accused the Nigerian army of illegally detaining girls and young women who have escaped from Boko Haram captivity because the military believes they support the Islamist insurgent group.

The military in a statement denied the allegations, which the human rights group said were based on 126 interviews from 2019 to 2024 with female former captives.

Thirty-one said they were unlawfully held in military barracks for several days to almost four years between 2015 and mid-2023, typically because of their real or perceived association with Boko Haram, Amnesty said in a report.

Boko Haram has fought an armed rebellion in Nigeria’s Northeast, which the U.N. says has killed more than 35,000 people. With a reputation for brutality, the group has been accused of torture, rape, forced marriage and kidnapping. The most well-known incident was the abduction of 300 girls from Chibok in 2014.

Since then, more girls have been abducted, and many have lived for years with Boko Haram fighters. Some have escaped.

“The Nigerian government has failed to uphold their human rights obligations to protect and adequately support these girls and young women,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s regional director for West and Central Africa, in the report.

Defence spokesperson Major General Edward Buba said the military respects human rights and upholds humanitarian law.

Nigeria’s military “operates within the ambit of international law of armed conflict,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

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Nigeria’s military has launched a counteroffensive against the Islamist group that has also attracted criticism of harsh tactics.

A Reuters investigation last year revealed that the military secretly ran a mass abortion programme in its war against Boko Haram.