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May 08, 2014

United States Assistance in Search for Abducted Nigerian Girls Must Not Enable Further Human Rights Abuses

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. Department of Defense, the State Department, and USAID to work together to ensure that the U.S. Government’s efforts to assist in the search for more than 230 girls who were kidnapped by Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram do not support individuals within the Nigerian security services who are themselves complicit in the victimization of these girls or other civilians. The call came in a letter issued to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel highlighting that in fighting Boko Haram, the Nigerian military has deployed teams of civilian vigilantes who themselves commit human rights abuses.

“[We] welcome the announcement that the United States will send a team of military, intelligence, and law enforcement advisors to Nigeria to assist in the search for the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, an increasingly dangerous terrorist group. We are concerned, however, that U.S. counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria is not addressing the underlying problems that made this horrific crime possible,” wrote Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “We urge you to be frank with your counterparts in Nigeria about how their security forces have contributed to this crisis.”

Nigeria is routinely ranked one of the world’s most corrupt countries: judges can be bought and elected officials are believed to cut deals with Boko Haram. The International Crisis Group reports that nearly one-third of Nigerian police are deployed as security guards to senior officials. The Nigerian military has been accused of raping, torturing, and killing civilians. When Nigerian civil society groups took to the streets to demand government action to rescue the missing girls, the security services arrested some of their leaders.

Human Rights First urges the Department of Defense to partner with State and USAID to support anti-corruption, rule of law, and police reforms and, through the Leahy Law and other avenues, to ensure that the United States is not supporting individuals within the Nigerian security services who are complicit in the victimization of the kidnapped girls or other civilians.

For more information contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.