Reuters released two sickening reports Wednesday and Monday detailing the news agency’s investigations into an alleged secret, forced abortion program and child massacres carried out by the Nigerian military.
In the midst of Nigeria’s 13-year war with Islamic extremists, according to the reports, the country has brutality coming from both sides.
‘That child had done nothing wrong’: Forced Abortion
According to a horrifying report published by Reuters Wednesday, the Nigerian military has run a massive forced abortion program in the country’s northeastern region on women who were brutally kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
The news agency interviewed 33 women and girls who said they had experienced a forced abortion while in the military’s custody, as well as healthcare workers, security personnel, and members of the military who were involved in the secret program.
According to the report, the Nigerian military forced chemical and surgical abortions on at least 10,000 women since 2013, some of whom were as young as 12. These women had been rescued from captivity by the Nigerian military. They were then kept in military custody for days or weeks at a time and either taken to a military facility or hospital, Reuters reported.
Pregnant women rescued and held by the Nigerian military described how they were given unknown medication or injections they were told would help them fight diseases like malaria. The women would then miscarry. Some women didn’t even know they were pregnant at the time, according to the report.
“If they had left me with the baby, I would have wanted it,” one woman, Bintu Ibrahim, who had undergone a forced chemical abortion told Reuters. “That child had done nothing wrong.”
Performed in extremely dirty conditions, women had their babies killed in surgical abortions where they were drugged, physically restrained, or beaten into unconsciousness by soldiers, the report stated.
“Slap, cane, gun – anything they could find,” one soldier and witness said to Reuters.
Witnesses told the news agency that many women died in the abortion process.
Boko Haram and ISWAP use kidnapping, forced marriage and rape as war strategies to target women. Since the conflict began in 2009, thousands of women and girls have gone missing. While in captivity, the women are drugged into submission, brutally beaten and raped. The insurgents force women and young girls into sexual slavery, selling them as brides to their fighters and using them to bear their children.
Nigerian soldiers interviewed by Reuters said that the military’s reasoning for forcing abortions was because the babies were refutably tied to Boko Haram by blood and would inevitably become insurgents one day. Soldiers told the news agency that their superiors had explained that the abortion program was necessary to eliminate the enemy before they could be born.
The Nigerian government and military have denied the existence of the abortion program, calling the Reuters investigation “not true.”
“The Federal Government hereby categorically states that there is no ‘secret, systematic and illegal abortion programme’ being run by our military in the northeast or anywhere across the country,” Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed said on Monday, per Reuters.
In response to the report, the U.N. Secretary-General requested the Nigerian authorities organize an investigation into the allegations of a forced abortion program, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
‘They killed so many children’: Massacres
In its second investigation installment released Monday, Reuters reported that the Nigerian military has massacred children on numerous occasions in its 13-year war against Boko Haram and ISWAP in northeastern Nigeria.
The news agency interviewed over 40 soldiers and civilians who said they witnessed Nigerian soldiers kill children. Reuters investigated six instances where the Nigerian military was accused of killing children and was able to confirm at least 60 deaths. However, the numbers are likely higher as witness estimates added together tallied in the thousands, according to the news agency.
According to the report, in various military operations in uncontrolled villages or after rescuing captives, soldiers were ordered to “delete” children of all ages perceived to be either collaborating with or biologically descendent from the extremist groups.
“I don’t see them as children, I see them as Boko Haram,” one soldier admitted to Reuters. “If I get my hands on them, I won’t shoot them, I will slit their throat … I enjoy it.”
Similar to the secret abortion program, the killing of children was intended to eliminate those with “tainted blood” who would inevitably or had already become militants, the report stated.
Mothers rescued from captivity reported to Reuters that Nigerian soldiers smothered their infants or shot their small children. In other cases, soldiers would inject babies with an unknown substance, telling the mother it would help fight malaria or some other disease. The child would then die.
“They killed so many children,” described one woman to Reuters. She had come across Nigerian soldiers standing over a pile of corpses, “one on top of another; we can’t even imagine how they put those bodies together that way.”
Nigerian military leaders denied the targeting of children when asked by Reuters. In a statement, General Irabor called the accounts “concocted allegations.”
Irabor said the Nigerian military is “raised, bred and further trained to protect lives, even at their own risk, especially when it concerns the lives of children, women and the elderly.”
The U.S. State Department said it is “deeply troubled” by the allegations presented by Reuters’ investigation.
“We are pursuing further information, including from the Government of Nigeria and stakeholders working in this space,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email, according to Reuters.
“We are still reviewing the report and will make decisions about next steps thereafter. Our Embassy in Abuja is seeking additional information, including by speaking to Nigerian authorities.”
According to Reuters, both the secret forced abortion program and the massacre of children could amount to possible war crimes.
The hesitancy of the Nigerian military to investigate these allegations is inexcusable. Both reports warrant full, immediate, and transparent investigations.
If found to be true, the Nigerian military’s actions demonstrate such an atrocious, blatant and ongoing disregard for human life that there should be consequences from the international community. The United States, for one, should cease any further arms sales to the Nigerian military.
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Image: “Hole in My Soul (6)” (Photo Credit: ConDevCenter, CC-NC-ND 2.0.)