No fewer than 60 children have been killed by armed groups in conflicts raging at Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, Amnesty International said in a new report published on Monday.
The group added that increasing numbers of children are also being targeted for recruitment by armed groups in conflicts raging in the tri-border area.
In the 57-page report, ‘I Have Nothing Left Except Myself’: The Worsening Impact on Children of Conflict in the Tillabéri Region of Niger, Amnesty documents the devastating impact of the conflict in Niger on children.
The conflict involves armed groups Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the al-Qaida-affiliated Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM).
Amnesty said ISGS, which operates primarily on the border with Mali, appeared responsible for most of the large-scale killings of children.
ISGS and JNIM committed war crimes in the conflict, including the killing of civilians and targeting of schools. A number of children have become traumatized after witnessing attacks in their villages. In some areas, women and girls are prohibited from leaving the house, and they are at risk of being raped or forced into marriage with fighters.
“In Niger’s Tillabéri region, an entire generation is growing up surrounded by death and destruction. Armed groups have repeatedly attacked schools and food reserves, and are targeting children for recruitment,” said Matt Wells, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues.
“The Nigerien government and its international partners must urgently take action to monitor and prevent further abuses and protect the basic rights of all those affected by this deadly conflict – especially children.”
The Nigerien authorities have failed to protect civilians. Witnesses to attacks described how, despite their urgent calls, Niger’s Defense and Security Forces (FDS) frequently arrived long after killing and looting had ended, the group said.
It added that the conflict in Tillabéri has escalated significantly since the start of this year. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, violence against civilians has led to 544 conflict-related deaths between 1 January and 29 July 2021 in Niger, already exceeding the 397 people killed in 2020.
Amnesty spoke to 16 boys who had narrowly survived ISGS attacks on their villages. They described how masked attackers on motorbikes opened fire, particularly targeting men and older boys. One boy, aged around 13 or 14, said: “We all are used to hearing gunshots and to seeing [dead] people layered on top of [dead] people.”
Another boy, who witnessed the murder of his 12-year-old friend Wahab in March 2021, said: “I think of Wahab and how he was killed. Sometimes I have nightmares of being chased by people on motorbikes or seeing Wahab pleading with the [attackers] again.”
Fighters have fired into homes, killing or injuring civilians attempting to hide. One woman and her baby daughter suffered gunshot wounds while hiding at home during a likely ISGS attack.
The FDS withdrew from some border areas after suffering losses to ISGS and JNIM in late 2019, leading to an absence of state authorities. Witnesses to attacks said the FDS often failed to respond, as killing and looting unfolded over several hours.
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