A Reuters investigation released Monday reports that Nigeria’s military has killed at least 60 children since 2009 as part of the nation’s 13-year battle against Islamic extremist organisations like Boko Haram. Under “Operation No Living Things,” soldiers were often acting on orders to interrogate, search or even kill children to prevent “a future threat.” These actions amount to war crimes under international law.
The report outlines a series of interviews conducted with 44 civilian witnesses and 15 security force members. It confirms a total of at least 60 children were killed over six “episodes” of targeted military violence. At least two sources saw killings or their aftermath firsthand. Soldiers would reportedly shoot, poison and suffocate children after either taking them from rescued women or rounding them up from small remote villages.
The military describes their operation as being a “patriotic fight against terrorists,” but Reuters reports that the killings often serve as “retribution.” A particular account from early 2022 describes a massacre in New Marte in the wake of a military defeat. Reuters recounts, “When commanders ordered towns to be cleared of presumed insurgents, soldiers said they understood, and sometimes were explicitly told, that children’s lives were not to be spared.” One soldier told investigators:
I don’t see them as children, I see them as Boko Haram. If I get my hands on them, I won’t shoot them, I will slit their throat…There’s a saying in Hausa, if you kill a snake but you don’t kill its young, there will be more battles ahead.
Nigerian military officials report these instances very differently. Of the 2022 New Marte massacre, Nigerian Army spokesman Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima stated in his biography that these soldiers simply “fulfilled their chief’s desire.” Major General Jimmy Akpor’s dubbed Reuter’s entire investigation a “fictitious series of stories.”
Other reports have accused Nigeria of war crimes in its fight against Boko Haram. A December 7 report by Reuters detailed a secret forced abortion programme for women raped by Boko Haram. Reuters described the abortions as another method by which the Nigerian military aims to “end the perceived insurgent bloodline.” Nigerian officials have denied the existance of a forced abortion programme. In 2015, Amnesty International also released a report detailing war crimes committed by the Nigerian Military against Boko Haram.