Human Rights Watch Slams FG over Silence on 300 Abducted Damasak Children

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Zacheaus Somorin
Global watchdog, Human Rights Watch, has slammed the federal government over its unacceptable silence on the abduction of 300 children from Damasak, Borno State.

In a press statement made available to THISDAY on Tuesday, the organisation urged the government to “take urgent steps to secure the release of about 400 women and children, including at least 300 elementary school students, abducted by Boko Haram from the town of Damasak in Borno State a year ago”.

“Damasak is the largest documented school abduction by Boko Haram militants. Yet, it has drawn far less public attention than the group’s widely condemned abduction of 276 schoolgirls from a government secondary school in Chibok in April 2014. While 57 of those girls managed to escape, 219 remain captive almost two years later,” the statement added.

The group said that the children have been missing for a year, and yet there has been no word from the Nigerian government, according to Mausi Segun, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The authorities need to wake up and find out where the Damasak children and other captives are and take urgent steps to free them,” he added.

On November 24, 2014, Boko Haram attacked Damasak, a trading town about 200 kilometers northwest of Maiduguri, near the border with Niger, blocking all four roads leading into the town and trapping residents and traders.

The insurgents quickly occupied Zanna Mobarti Primary School, shutting the gates and locking more than 300 students, ages 7 to 17, inside, according to a teacher at the school and other witnesses that Human Rights Watch interviewed.

The Boko Haram militants then used the school as a military base, bringing scores of other women and children abducted across the town there as captives.

In February 2016, a woman who was at home in Damasak that morning told Human Rights Watch what happened: “It was early morning when I heard gunshots and chaos. My husband had already left home for the market so I grabbed my two children, a boy aged four and a girl aged two, and ran.

“But we ran into Boko Haram and they detained us in the middle of the town. They brought more and more women and children to where we were kept. Then they took all of us to Zanna Mobarti Primary School…I have not seen my children since then.”

The men who were captured by Boko Haram were kept at different locations, including an estimated 80 men in the house of the district head, a witness said.

In the days and weeks following the attack, some of the men were forced to dispose of bodies left on the streets and in the market area. Scores of bodies were dumped into a nearby river and makeshift graves, among other locations.
A witness forced to participate in the operation said he saw hundreds of bodies.

One teacher who had escaped from the primary school but was recaptured soon after told Human Rights Watch, “I was held captive by (Boko Haram) for at least six days… Corpses were on the street. They forced us to carry (the corpses) and go and dispose of them in the river and there is nothing one could do about it.”

The insurgents shot several people who tried to escape by jumping into the river. One man who escaped by swimming across the river said: “Those that were able to swim escaped and those that couldn’t held on to the grass, and they were shot.”

The group accused the Nigerian soldiers of turning back a number of those who tried to flee to Maiduguri and other locations, pointing out that the soldiers apparently were suspicious that Boko Haram insurgents might be hidden among those fleeing.

A farmer who attempted to reach Maiduguri in a vehicle said soldiers at a military checkpoint forced him and others back: “The soldiers turned people back to Damasak. They would not allow you to leave and if you tried, (the soldiers) would smash your car and burst your tires. So you had to look for another way out around the town or (try to cross) the river, if you could swim. It was terrible.”

Between March 13 and 15, 2015, soldiers from neighbouring Chad and Niger advanced on Damasak as part of a cross-border military operation against the insurgents.

As the troops approached, Boko Haram members fled from Damasak, taking with them the 300 children and an estimated 100 more women and children they had been holding captive there.

Six witnesses, now in Maiduguri and whose children or other relatives were among those abducted, told Human Rights Watch that none had been returned.

Some parents have received information from Nigerian refugees in Chad that their children were seen with Boko Haram in Mari and Dogon Chikum, near the Nigerian border with Chad, though Human Rights Watch could not independently confirm this information.

“There is no one you can go and cry to since the military has not gone to attack those places,” said one man who had lost relatives.

  • Asuk

    Na wa…oh! Where are BRING BACK OUR GIRLS. LAI MOHAMMED TELL US MOR LIES.

  • Segun Abiodun

    Where is Oby Ezekwesili?
    Why has she suddenly gone silent?
    Wonders would never end.

    • Okwuchukwu David

      Oby Ezekwesili is a disappointment to her generation,and it will hunt her forever.

  • kenny

    While some foreign tribe in Nigeria has started asking some damaging questions. I think it is important to note that this report is on assumption and yet to be prove on the 300 children and beside this report is referred to the same old news with which the BRING OUR GILRS team has been championed before the inception of this government.

    We have seen and read all international community reports on the failure of the past government to proactively responded at the wake of this incident and same failure of the same government from seeking for help from them when there was chance for that.

    The current government which the true Nigerian are praising for engaging the support of the international community and joint military actions that not only see to the clearing and dislodging the Boko Haram sect but also recaptured all areas within the territotries of Nigeria do appreciate both the BOG team and government actions so far.

    Those who are so blind to this report or maliciously misinterpret it to mean the opposite should continue in their ignorance while mighty God will never stop HIS mercy and grace on the success recorded so far by the Nigeria soldiers and their counterparts.

    What a tribe ….

    • 4T2

      Talk is cheap.
      Buhari criticised Jonathan for the Chibok tragedy, yet is DELIBERATELY SILENT over this very incompetence of his, because he is part of our national terrorism challenges, no thanks to his Fulani herdsmen whom we formally knew as Boko Haram.
      Buhari will hate Thisday newsmedia for publishing this truth.
      Nigeria is in trouble.

      Welcome to CHANGE.

  • oau

    Oby Ezekwesili (fake pastor) who has gone beyond the control of her husband was expecting a ministerial appointment from APC. She has completely ruined her reputation with her hypocritical utterances and conducts during her so called “bring back our girls”. I never saw her behaving as a pastor by either praying for Jonathan or Nigeria, or giving prophetical words of encouragement. Not every PHD holder is learned and educated.

  • Fidel98

    Where was this very human right watch when the Nigerian Soldiers were killing the IPOB people that were protesting without weapons in their hands? What have they done about it since then till now? If they are human rights watch as they are called they have to do it without fear or favor.

  • ogbuefiakajiaku

    This kids can remain wherever they are since GEJ is gone and BBOG is now a part of APC propaganda machine gone silent. They have achieved the ultimate aim of putting an uneducated military Hausa Fulani man with the help of Yoruba people and their media coverage by punch.tvc et al. So no more problem with kidnapped kids whether chibok or damask or Maiduguri. Welcome to Nigeria APC.

  • muazu wali

    If the watch is serious on the rights of humans world wide it is only commonsense that they should SNF assist in rescuring the captives. Their volunteer services will be most appreciated.

  • westman

    What is Buhari doing about this or what has he done about it? Propaganda govt