By Fabrice Etienne, Scott Furssedonn-Wood and Helen LaFave
Last month, on the night of April 14, a group of militants kidnapped over 200 teenage girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. In several videos released thereafter, Abubakar Shekau, who leads the terrorist organization Boko Haram based in northeast Nigeria, claimed that his group was behind the kidnappings. “I abducted your girls,” Shekau said, adding that Boko Haram was holding the girls and would “sell them in the market.” In his second video message, he uses them to attempt to bargain for the release of imprisoned Boko Haram members.
Boko Haram has been killing innocent people in Nigeria for some time and has kidnapped women and young girls in the past. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Nigeria have designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. In 2012, the U.S. government announced a seven million dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of Abubakar Shekau. Nigeria has also offered a $300,000 award for information leading to the capture of Boko Haram’s leader. By adding Boko Haram to the UN’s 1267 sanctions list, the United Nations Security Council has helped to close off important avenues of funding, travel and weapons to Boko Haram. The sanctions designation is the latest step in the international community’s long-term effort to help Nigeria counter this terrorist threat.
Inter-disciplinary teams from our three countries – France, the United States, and the United Kingdom – are working closely on the ground with the Government of Nigeria to combat this terrorist group and prevent future attacks. Canada, China, and other nations are also providing assistance. French President Hollande, with high-level representation from the UK and U.S., chaired a summit in Paris, dedicated to security in Nigeria, along with the presidents of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, all of which share land borders with Nigeria. All the States agreed to assist Nigeria in developing a comprehensive strategy to address Boko Haram’s threat to the region by strengthening regional cooperation on counterterrorism, including intelligence sharing and border security.
The prolific online campaign #BringBackOurGirls has brought needed attention to this horrific crime. It has been tweeted over one million times by individuals and organizations including Amnesty International and UNICEF. British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, have been among the latest high profile dignitaries to throw their “social media weight” behind the campaign. The campaign has moved across Twitter timelines among people from all backgrounds who are indignant about the situation, and has intensified into a groundswell of support for the girls.
Like millions of people across the globe, we are outraged and stand in solidarity to speak out against the indiscriminate kidnapping of innocent school girls and the horrors of terrorism. This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls by denying them the right to their safety, freedom, education, and dignity. The United States is providing ongoing counterterrorism support to Nigeria, including supporting it as a pilot country for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, which Secretary Kerry announced in September 2013. As President Obama has said, “… we are committed to doing everything we can to help Nigeria bring these girls home safely to their families.” President Hollande announced France’s willingness to provide support to the Nigerian armed forces through intelligence-sharing and trainings. Rafale airplanes based in N’djamena are mobilized to help with the search and rescue operations. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared: “Something horrific and ignominious has been committed in Nigeria. In the face of such a situation, outrage is not enough. Both France and the other democratic nations must react.” The British Royal Air Force has deployed a surveillance aircraft to help with the search and British aid is already helping to educate 600,000 Nigerian girls, and has offered further assistance if required. British Foreign Secretary William Hague summed it up best when he said, “Using girls as the spoils of war and the spoils of terrorism is disgusting and immoral … It should show everybody across the world that they should not give any support for such a vile organisation.”
While we unequivocally condemn what happened in Nigeria, let us remember that this is not an isolated incident. This is a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives simply by pursuing their ambitions and dreams. It’s the story of girls like Malala Yousafzai, who spoke out for girls’ education in her community and risked being killed. Education is truly a girl’s best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but also for her family, her nation, and all of humanity.
These girls embody the best hope for the future of our world. We are committed to standing up for them not just in times of tragedy or crisis, but also for their basic human rights. The courage and hope embodied by the Nigerian school girls, Malala, and many others like them around the globe should serve as a call to action. They deserve our commitment to ensure that they have the opportunities to reach their highest potential. Let all of us show a fraction of their courage in speaking up for their unconditional release, remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
(Fabrice Etienne, French Consul General, Kolkata (@FranceinKolkata); Scott Furssedonn-Wood, British Deputy High Commissioner, Kolkata (@DHCScottFW); and Helen LaFave, U.S. Consul General, Kolkata (@HelenCGKolkata)