It's been one year since extremist group Boko Haram abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, and their whereabouts are still mostly unknown. The schoolgirls are believed to be either held captive by the extremist militants or trafficked into sex slavery. Other reports have also speculated that the missing girls and teens are now being used as suicide bombers and accomplices in terrorist attacks across northeastern Nigeria, where thousands continue to flee their villages in fear.
In a report released Tuesday, human rights organization Amnesty International found that the number of girls and teens kidnapped by Boko Haram is much higher than we thought. Amnesty estimates that at least 2,000 Nigerian girls have been taken from their homes and schools since the beginning for 2014, while at least 5,500 civilians in northeastern Nigeria have been killed in that time by the extremist group.
The report, which draws upon interviews with nearly 200 witnesses and survivors, also looks into Boko Haram's vicious tactics, which Amnesty considers "war crimes and crimes against humanity." Many of these crimes include the use of explosive devices, with 46 bombings occurring between January 2014 and March 2015; these bomb attacks have killed more than 800 civilians.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint all of the militant attacks, Amnesty believes there were at least 230 raids and bombings against civilians in 2014, and dozens more since the start of 2015. The attacks averaged nearly 20 a month, and were mainly impacting cities and villages in Borno and Yobe states.
"The evidence presented in this shocking report, one year after the horrific abduction of the Chibok girls, underlines the scale and depravity of Boko Haram’s methods," said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty. "Men and women, boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, have been killed, abducted and brutalized by Boko Haram during a reign of terror which has affected millions."
Although the extremist group has caused chaos across northeastern Nigeria, Amnesty found that Boko Haram's attacks are "systematic in nature," pointing to the rampages on schools to block children from secular education. The report adds:
Other elements of Boko Haram’s actions also display a methodical approach, such as its targeting of individuals and communities identified as collaborating with the government; its looting of food and other supplies; and its attacks on barracks to steal arms and ammunition. As Boko Haram occupied large towns in the north-east, it became clear that the group had decided to occupy territory as a strategy.
"In 2014, Boko Haram’s attacks became more organized, frequent and lethal," the report states. Satellite images, some of which were previously released by Amnesty International, show the complete destruction of a group of villages in northeastern Nigeria near Lake Chad, as well as a town on the Nigeria-Cameroon border. Images of one town named Bama provide visual evidence that nearly 6,000 structures — 70 percent of the town — were destroyed in a Boko Haram raid in early 2015.
But Boko Haram's largest crime against humanity is its barbaric treatment of children — both girls and boys — who have either been abducted or manipulated and recruited as child soldiers. Girls and women, too, are repeatedly subjected to sexual violence and captivity. "After taking control of a town, Boko Haram has routinely rounded up women and girls and detained them in large houses under armed guard," the report states. "Women and girls that have escaped from Boko Haram reported that many were forced to marry Boko Haram members."
"The abducted must be rescued, war crimes and crimes against humanity must be investigated," Shetty said. "Bodies must be disinterred from mass graves, further killings must be prevented and those guilty of inflicting this unspeakable suffering must be brought to justice."
Images: Getty Images, Amnesty International report