The Nigerian military has allegedly terminated at least 10,000 pregnancies as part of a secret abortion campaign targeting women and girls in the country's northeast, many of whom had been kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram militants.
A Reuters investigation spoke to dozens of witnesses who said that pregnant women and girls who escaped Islamist groups into the custody of the Nigerian military were beaten and either drugged into compliance or injected with abortion drugs without their consent.
Many of the victims of the alleged illegal and systematic program had been victims of Boko Haram, a powerful jihadist group that has kidnapped thousands to be slaves or jihadi wives.
Soldiers involved told Reuters that the unborn children were believed to be “predestined” to be insurgents like their fathers, so that the government had to “destroy (these) insurgent fighters before they could be born”.
The women and girls ranged from a few weeks to eight months pregnant; some were as young as 12 years old, interviews and records showed.
One victim called Fati, now in her early 20s, said she was captured by the jihadists and repeatedly raped for a year. She was four months pregnant when Nigerian soldiers eventually rescued her. “I felt the happiest I ever had in my life,” she said.
But about a week later, she was led to a dim cockroach-filled room at a military barracks in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Uniformed men gave her and five other women mysterious injections and pills.
Silenced with violence
After about four hours, she felt a searing pain in her stomach, and black blood seeped out of her.
After the women washed the blood down a squat toilet, she said, they were warned: “If you share this with anyone, you will be seriously beaten.”
The abortions were mainly carried out without the person's consent – and often without their prior knowledge, according to the witnesses interviewed by Reuters.
Nigerian military leaders on Thursday denied the programme had ever existed and have said that reporters were part of a foreign effort to undermine the country's fight against the insurgents.
Defence Chief General Lucky Irabor told reporters in Abuja that the army “will not investigate what you know is not true”.
But Nigerian opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar's administration vowed that if he won next year’s election he would launch a probe.
Britain had close military ties to Nigeria
Forced abortions may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to four legal experts briefed by Reuters on its findings.
Britain has had close military ties to Nigeria for decades. In 2016, the Government said about 300 UK troops were involved in training Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram.
However, The Telegraph understands that the training programmes were hamstrung by Nigerian generals who saw the UK deployment as an annoyance. It is understood that British troops spent most of 2017 in their Nigerian barracks.
“The Nigerians didn’t want people. They wanted predator drones and were a little contemptuous of our people,” a source with knowledge of the deployment said.
The Ministry of Defence said it was not aware of the reports of forced abortions.
“UK Armed Forces conduct counter-insurgency training in Nigeria covering matters such as infantry skills, human rights, and combating the threat of improvised explosive devices,” a government spokesman said. “The UK Government was not previously aware of these reports.”
‘They dug a hole... and buried her’
Alice Kearns, Chair of the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, described the stories as “heartbreaking”.
She said it was “the responsibility of UK authorities to ensure that their support of the Nigerian military does not aid human rights abuses and we expect the Government to take these allegations seriously”.
Chris Smith, a Republican member of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the credible reports “shock the conscience” and that sanctions should be used against the individuals responsible.
The reporters’ investigation is based on interviews with 33 women and girls and accounts collected from healthcare workers, security personnel, military documents and civilian hospital records. Together they describe thousands of abortion procedures.
In interviews, soldiers and women described conditions in military encampments or facilities as squalid: pregnant women sometimes were kept outside in tents or under tarps during their abortions, where they bled into the dirt.
Some women later told Reuters that had they been asked, they would have kept the babies. Despite the father’s brutality, “that child had done nothing wrong,” said Bintu Ibrahim.
Eight others, including Fati, said they had not wanted to go through with their pregnancies but that they resented being tricked or forced into a frightening and potentially dangerous abortion.
“They should ask for women’s opinions,” Fati said.
Although the full scope of deaths from the nearly decade-long programme could not be determined, four soldiers and two security officers said they witnessed women die from abortions or saw their corpses afterwards.
“That woman was more pregnant than the rest of us, almost six or seven months,” Ibrahim said. “She was crying, yelling, rolling around, and at long last she stopped rolling and shouting. She became so weak and traumatised, and then she stopped breathing.
“They just dug a hole, and they put sand over it and buried her.”
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