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Nigerian military denies maltreating Boko Haram survivors

FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, schoolgirls freed from Boko Haram captivity gather in Abuja, Nigeria.
FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, schoolgirls freed from Boko Haram captivity gather in Abuja, Nigeria.

A new report by rights group Amnesty International accuses Nigeria's military of inhumane treatment toward women and girls who survived Boko Haram. Nigerian defense authorities reject the report's findings, saying that military personnel operate within the scope of international laws of conflict.

A statement said the military has "self-regulating mechanisms to address any proven case of misconduct" by its operatives.

The report from Amnesty International, titled "Help Us Build Our Lives," said women and girls who survived Boko Haram captivity were subjected to further suffering, including prolonged, unlawful detention by the military and inadequate support by authorities for them to rebuild their lives.

"We still stand by what we have said," said Isa Sanusi, Amnesty International's Nigeria director. "We believe that if somebody is saying that what you're saying is not true, he should provide evidence. This research took more than a year and it is based on interviews with over 126 people."

The Amnesty report said girls who were not detained were left to fend for themselves in camps where they sometimes reunite with former or so-called "repentant" Boko Haram husbands — putting them at risk of continued abuse from the men.

"These girls were picked when they were children," said Sanusi. "They didn't give their consent, they were forced. And what they went through is more or less human trafficking and abduction, therefore it is completely based on illegitimacy and it is unacceptable that they will be kept in government-run camps and pretend that they're married or something. Even if the girls say that they want to live with them, an investigation should be done in a free atmosphere without coercion."

Nigerian troops have been fighting Boko Haram insurgents in northeast Nigeria since 2009. The group's rebellion has killed more than 35,000 people and displaced millions, according to the United Nations.

The Nigerian military's approach and tactics have often sparked criticism.

Nigerian authorities said the military will engage with Amnesty International but said authorities were "unperturbed by such self-serving statements targeted at dampening the morale of troops."

Security analyst Senator Iroegbu says the matter is a delicate topic and must be treated with caution.

"Anything associated with Boko Haram is a sensitive matter, there are a lot of misgivings over this so-called rehabilitation and reintegration of Boko Haram terrorists," said Iroegbu. "For the military, they're also in a very delicate situation. Once these survivors are rescued there's a detention facility where they're being vetted. Now the challenge is how long are they being vetted? The military in the first place are not even trained for the role they're playing."

Last year, a Reuters news agency investigation accused the military of secretly running a mass abortion program for girls and women rescued from Boko Haram.

Authorities set up an investigation into the matter but Amnesty International says the findings are shrouded in secrecy.

Iroegbu says sometimes overzealous personnel are to blame for the misconduct.

"The military as an institution might have committed to observing human rights but there are some individual soldiers that might have committed rights violations in their own actions," said Iroegbu, the security analyst. "What I expected the military [to do] is say, 'Okay, we'll investigate.'"

Amnesty says before releasing the report, it presented Nigeria's federal and state authorities as well as the United Nations with its findings.

The military referred to Amnesty International's sources as "intrinsically unreliable."