Top United Nations officials have expressed deep concern about the fate of the 230 girls violently abducted from their school by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria and deplored claims made by the group that it plans to sell them in the market and marry them off.
The UN human rights office lashed out at the militant group for referring to the girls as “slaves” and warned the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law.
“These can, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity. We are deeply concerned about the outrageous claims made in a video believed to be by the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria,” spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had condemned the violent abduction of the girls, believed to be between 15 and 18 years old, seized at gunpoint on April 14 after Boko Haram militants stormed a school in the north-eastern town of Chibok.
“The girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families,” her spokesperson said.
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s top envoy on children and armed conflict Leila Zerrougui also expressed deep concern about the fate of the 230 girls and deplored the group’s abduction of several more girls on Wednesday.
“I am appalled by these attacks and I am in solidarity with the victims and their families in this tragedy. I
strongly condemn the statement by video of the supposed leader of Boko Haram, which claimed that the abducted girls be sold, possibly for forced marriages,” Zerrougui said in a statement.
Zerrougui said she and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Nqcuka and Pillay had contacted the Nigerian Government to urge it to redouble efforts to secure the release of these girls.
“Every child, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, social status, language, nationality or religion, has the right to education and to live without fear of violence,” she said.
Since July 2009, the extremist group Boko Haram has been carrying out targeted attacks against schools, police, religious leaders, politicians, public and international institutions, indiscriminately killing civilians, including dozens of children, the press release said.
“The insurgent group continues to demonstrate that they have no regard for human rights. This senseless violence must be stopped immediately,” Zerrougui said, stressing that attacks on schools, students and teachers are prohibited under international humanitarian law and perpetrators must know that they will be held accountable.
Colville said the primary responsibility for the safety of the girls lies with the Nigerian state, which was “large and strong”.
The UNICEF said it had underscored in earlier statements that such acts of violence were “absolutely unacceptable and represented a crime against international law”.
The UN World Food Programme’s Elisabeth Byrs said the right to education was a fundamental one and that “young girls had to be allowed to attend school”.