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UN: Sale of Girls by Boko Haram Would Be Crime Against Humanity

  • Lisa Schlein

Protesters march in support of the girls kidnapped by members of Boko Haram in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2014.

Protesters march in support of the girls kidnapped by members of Boko Haram in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2014.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the reported intention by Boko Haram to sell abducted girls as slaves could constitute a crime against humanity. The militant group reportedly has kidnapped eight more girls in northeastern Nigeria. This follows last month’s abduction of more than 300 schoolgirls.

The U.N. Human Rights office is condemning the outrageous claims made in a video by the alleged leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria Monday. In that video, he referred to the abducted girls as slaves and said he would sell them in the market and marry them off.

U.N. Human Rights Commission spokesman Rupert Colville said Tuesday the members of this militant Islamic group will pay a price for their crimes. He said there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law. And under certain circumstances, he said, these can constitute crimes against humanity.

“There is no statute of limitations for very serious international crimes, especially crimes against humanity ... Slavery, sexual slavery under international law can be considered as crimes against humanity. That means anyone responsible can be arrested and charged and prosecuted and jailed at any time in the future. So, just because they think they are safe now, they will not necessarily be in two years, five years, 10 years’ time,” said Colville.

There are specific criteria for an act to reach the level of crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court defines such offenses as "particularly odious" and that constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or degradation of human beings. It also says such acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity if they are part of a government policy, tolerated by a government, or if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.

Last year, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court referred to reports of murder and persecution by Boko Haram to justify its belief that the Islamic group committed crimes against humanity.

'All necessary measures'

Three weeks ago, Boko Haram abducted more than 300 schoolgirls from their dormitory in Chibok in Borno State in northern Nigeria. Some have escaped, but the kidnappers hold more than 270 girls. The Nigerian government has been widely criticized for not doing enough to find and free these girls.

In commenting on Boko Haram’s intention to sell the abducted girls, Colville said the consequences of forced marriage can be absolutely devastating. He said the power differentials between the girls and their so-called spouses are likely to strip them of autonomy and undermine their freedom of will and expression.

“The situation will be tantamount to slavery or slavery-like practices within the so-called marriage. It is also likely to expose them to continuous physical, psychological, economic, and sexual violence and also, probably, restrictions of movement," he said. "So, it is a totally devastating experience for anyone to have to go through.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is urging Nigerian authorities to take all necessary measures, consistent with human rights, to protect their people from the violations and crimes perpetrated by Boko Haram.

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