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Lake Chad conflict: alarming surge in number of children used in Boko Haram bomb attacks this year
by Marie-Pierre Poirier
UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa
8 May, 2017
Chibok schoolgirls: 82 girls released by Boko Haram. (Reuters)
A group of 82 girls held captive for three years by Islamist militants have met Nigeria''s President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja, a day after they were released in exchange for several militants, officials say.
"I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom," Mr Buhari told the girls surrounding him in his residency. "On behalf of all Nigerians, I will like to share my joy with you," he told the girls.
The girls were among a group of 276 schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014 by the militant group Boko Haram, which has waged an eight year insurgency killing thousands of civilians and forcing more than 2 million from their homes.
The Government secured the release with mediation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
In Chibok, the remote town in north-eastern Nigeria where the girls were abducted from, families were nervously waiting for names of those freed to be published.
"Many of the parents of the girls are anxious about the identities of the girls," said Maina Mohammed, uncle of one of the abducted girls.
Although the kidnapping of the Chibok girls caught global attention, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of women and children who remain held in captivity.
12 April 2017
The number of children used in ‘suicide’ attacks in the Lake Chad conflict has surged to 27 in the first quarter of 2017, compared to nine over the same period last year, UNICEF said in a new report released today.
“In the first three months of this year, the number of children used in bomb attacks is nearly the same as the whole of last year – this is the worst possible use of children in conflict,” says Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
The increase reflects an alarming tactic by the insurgents, according to the report Silent Shame: Bringing out the voices of children caught in the Lake Chad crisis. So far, 117 children have been used to carry out bomb attacks in public places across Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon since 2014: four in 2014, 56 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 27 only in the first three months of 2017. Girls have been used in the vast majority of these attacks.
As a consequence, girls, boys and even infants have been viewed with increasing fear at markets and checkpoints, where they are thought to carry explosives.
“These children are victims, not perpetrators,” says Poirier. “Forcing or deceiving them into committing such horrific acts is reprehensible.”
Released three years after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, the report provides troubling accounts by children who were held in captivity at the hands of Boko Haram, and shows how these children are met with deep suspicion when they return to their communities.
In interviews, many children who have been associated with Boko Haram report that they keep their experience secret because they fear the stigmatization and even violent reprisals from their community. Some are compelled to bear their horrors in silence as they remove themselves from other groups for fear they might be outed and stigmatized.
The report also highlights the challenges that local authorities face with children who have been intercepted at checkpoints and taken into administrative custody for questioning and screening, raising concerns about the prolonged periods of custody.
In 2016, almost 1,500 children were under administrative custody in the four countries. The release of more than 200 children by Nigerian authorities on the 10th of April is a positive step towards the protection of children affected by the ongoing crisis.
UNICEF calls on parties to the conflict to commit to the following actions to protect children in the region:
End grave violations against children by Boko Haram including the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict as so-called ‘suicide bombers’.
Move children from a military to civilian environment as quickly as possible. Children who have been taken into custody solely for their alleged or actual association to armed groups should be immediately handed-over to civilian authorities for reintegration and support. Handover protocols should be in place in each of the four countries for children encountered during military operations.
Provide care and protection for separated and unaccompanied children. All children affected by the crisis need psychosocial support and safe spaces to recover.
In 2016, UNICEF reached over 312,000 children with psychosocial support in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and reunited more than 800 children with their families.
UNICEF is working with communities and families to fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence and to build a protective environment for former abductees.
In a crisis that has displaced more than 1.3 million children, UNICEF also supports local authorities to provide safe water and life-saving health services; restore access to education by creating temporary learning spaces; and deliver therapeutic treatment to malnourished children. However, the response to this crisis remains severely underfunded. Last year, UNICEF’s US$154 million appeal for the Lake Chad Basin was only 40 per cent funded.
* UNICEF is responding to an unprecedented number of major humanitarian emergencies facing children and their families around the world. Here journalists can find the most recent news and resources on children caught in these crises, UNICEF’s response and key contacts in each region:

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China tops world execution list but true number of killings remains a mystery
by Amnesty International, news agencies
11 April 2017
China is believed to have executed more people than the rest of the world combined in 2016, as the number of death penalties across the globe fell by 37 percent overall.
An Amnesty International report found there were 1,032 state-sponsored executions worldwide in 2016 — 602 fewer than in 2015.
However Amnesty''s annual tally excludes China, where the true number of people sentenced to death is a state secret but is thought to be "in the thousands".
Human rights group Dui Hua estimates China conducted about 2,000 executions last year, down from 6,500 a decade ago.
The group''s executive director, John Kamm, said the number was based on research into lower-level court cases and contacts with government officials, and Chinese and Western legal scholars.
Amnesty said a fall in the number of executions worldwide was largely driven by fewer deaths recorded in Iran and Pakistan.
The United States recorded 20 executions — its fewest in 25 years — in part because of court rulings and shortages of chemicals used in lethal injections.
It was the first time in five years the US has not been among the world''s top five executioners — China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan in 2016. Together these five countries accounted for 90 per cent of all executions worldwide.
"If we look at the top five around the world, we know that China is the standout one, so this is the one that executes by the thousands," Amnesty International''s Rose Kulak told the ABC news agency.
"The next one down that we know the figures for is Iran, which is a bit over 500 people have been executed.
"Then we have Saudi Arabia, which is about 150, then we have Iraq and Pakistan, with about 80 each."
Ms Kulak said Pakistan was the "outstanding country" in our region, in terms of rates of executions and the number of people on death row. They have over 8,000 people on death row.
"When we''re talking about a global figure of 19,000 that''s over a third of the world''s death-row inmates are in Pakistan alone."
China has faced longstanding pressure from the international community to curb its use of the death penalty, which reached a high in 1983 with 24,000 executions.
This came after provincial courts were given powers to mete out capital punishment, according to Dui Hua.
Oversight of death-sentence cases was returned to China''s highest court, the Supreme People''s Court, in 2007.
Since that time, the Government has narrowed which crimes can bring capital punishment but still lists more than three dozen eligible offenses — including treason, separatism, spying, arson, murder, rape, robbery and human trafficking.
Government officials did not immediately comment on Amnesty''s report, however China''s chief justice, Zhou Qiang, told the national legislature last month that over the past decade executions were limited to "an extremely small number of criminals for extremely serious offences".
Chinese legal scholar Hong Daode said 90 per cent of executions last year were for homicide cases.
"There has been a long tradition in China that the one that has taken people''s lives should pay with his own life," said Mr Hong, a professor of criminal law at China University of Political Science and Law.

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