During my time this summer as an intern at The Advocates for Human Rights, I’ve encountered many horror stories of human rights violations around the world. Yet none has shaken me more than the terrorist group Boko Haram’s new war tactic: kidnapping children and deploying them as suicide bombers.
Since its uprising against the Nigerian government in 2009, the militant Islamic group with allegiance to ISIS has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced nearly 2.3 million people. According to the Global Terrorism Index, it is the world’s deadliest terrorist group over ISIS. Much of the world, however, learned of Boko Haram only after its abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014. Most of the girls remain missing to this day.
The latest development in Boko Haram’s violence that has spread beyond Nigeria’s borders is the harrowing use of children in suicide attacks, and the country with the highest incidence is Cameroon. According to UNICEF, 21 suicide attacks involving children took place in Cameroon between January 2014 and February 2016, while there were 17 in Nigeria and two in Chad.
As with children taken by Boko Haram elsewhere, those captured in Cameroon are forced to serve as not only suicide bombers, but also combatants on the front line, human shields, and guards – collectively known as “child soldiers.”
What have Cameroonian authorities done in response to Boko Haram’s increasing exploitation of their children as tools of war?
Cameroon joined a multinational task force to fight against Boko Haram and continues to conduct offensive military operations, but the protection of child soldiers embroiled in the conflict has not been a priority of the government. In its periodic report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, ― a body of experts monitoring implementation of the human rights treaty specific to children ― Cameroon does not make a single reference to child soldiers nor Boko Haram’s use of children in its aggression.
Furthermore, the government does not offer organized support to former child soldiers. As Cameroonian forces have recaptured territories held by Boko Haram, some abductees have been found and released. According to UNICEF, however, many are not even welcomed home and instead viewed with deep suspicion because of the fear that they were radicalized in captivity. In particular, girls who were forcibly married to their captors and became pregnant as a result of rape face marginalization and discrimination due to social and cultural norms related to sexual violence. Accused of being Boko Haram wives, they are rejected by relatives and community members.
In the face of egregious abuses committed against Cameroonian children by Boko Haram and the mistreatment persisted by society, the government has been silent for far too long and must take action to better protect its youth from the effects of armed conflict. Instead of penalizing children associated with Boko Haram as was the case in the mass arrest and detainment of Quranic school students in 2014, the government ought to treat them as victims in need of protection.
First, the government should harmonize its national legislation with international standards that prohibit the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram. Cameroon has ratified both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the accompanying Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Under these treaties, Cameroon has the duty to enact measures to prevent the recruitment of children by armed groups, including the adoption of necessary legal measures. At present, however, Cameroon does not have any law that addresses the use of children by armed groups. Domestic provisions criminalizing this practice must be in place in order to prosecute perpetrators and stop offenses from occurring in the first place.
Second, the Cameroonian government should develop a comprehensive system of demobilization, recovery, and reintegration for children previously under the influence of armed groups. For the fraction of child soldiers who are rescued or able to escape from Boko Haram, life after captivity is supposed to be better. Yet these children are abandoned by their own families and left wholly vulnerable from their torturous experiences under Boko Haram. It is the State’s responsibility to ensure that they are safely moved to rehabilitative centers and to assist them in their physical and psychological recovery as well as their reintegration into society.
Recruiting children to participate in hostilities is a blatant human rights violation under international law. Yet a State’s failure to protect its children from such recruitment is also a violation of its human rights obligation. The Cameroonian government must act now to safeguard the rights of its children.
By: Nayeon Kim, a rising senior at Yale University studying political science and psychology. She was a 2016 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program through the Bulldogs on the Lakes program.
On June 30, 2013, just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decisions in favor of marriage equality in Windsor and Perry, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Federal Law 135, which bans propaganda to minors about “non-traditional sexual relations.”
For several years, opponents of marriage equality in the United States have turned their attention overseas, to places like Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia, where their rhetoric about “traditional family values” and their lies conflating homosexuality with sexual abuse of children appear to have found receptive audiences. Today, as the last days of the Sochi Olympics approach, and as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni prepares to sign into law a bill that would impose punishments of up to life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” it’s important to examine Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, its effect on children, and the origins of Russia’s law and others like it.
It Gets Worse: Russia’s Propaganda Law Targets Civil Society Groups that Support LGBTI Youth
Russia’s propaganda law is designed to isolate LGBTI youth in Russia from all possible sources of support, driving them deeper into the closet and ensuring that they won’t be able to see or hear any information that could suggest anything positive about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Article 3(2)(b) of Federal Law 135 imposes administrative fines and, in the case of non-citizens, deportation, for:
Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, including distribution of information that intends minors to adopt non-traditional sexual orientations, that makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive, that presents distorted conceptions of the social equivalence of traditional and non-traditional sexual relations, or that imposes information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in these relations.
This language is just as vague in Russian as it is in my English translation. But what’s not vague are the penalties, which show that the law’s real targets are civil society organizations and individuals who use the internet to reach out to and support Russian LGBTI youth:
Russian citizens: fines of 4,000-5,000 rubles ($114-$142), or enhanced penalties of 50,000-100,000 rubles ($1,419-$2,839) for propaganda using the media or the internet
Russian administrative officials: fines of 40,000-50,000 rubles ($1,140-$1,420), or enhanced penalties of 100,000-200,000 rubles ($2,839-$5,677) for propaganda using the media or the internet
Legal entities (businesses, non-governmental organizations): fines of 800,000-1,000,000 rubles ($22,710-$28,387) or suspension of activities for up to 90 days, or enhanced penalties of 1,000,000 rubles ($28,387) or suspension of business activities for up to 90 days for propaganda using the media or the internet
Non-citizens: fines and penalties identical to those for Russian citizens, but also administrative deportation and /or administrative arrest for up to 15 days.
The vague language describing the prohibited conduct and the steep fines that escalate for individuals who distribute their “propaganda” on the internet are designed to chill speech and stifle any efforts to provide support to LGBTI youth in Russia.
Some observers have noted that eight states in the United States have laws prohibiting classroom instruction that portrays homosexuality in a positive light. But Russia’s law is much broader in scope, prohibiting everything from gay pride parades to online support groups.
“Leave the Children Alone”: Harming Children under the Pretext of Protecting Them
In attempting to reassure Olympians, coaches, and other visitors to Russia about the new law, President Putin announced in January that LGBTI people “can feel free” in Sochi, as long as they “leave the children alone.” As insinuated by Putin’s comment, and by the text of the law itself, the pretext for the law is the protection of children. As such, the law is grounded in three fundamental misconceptions and lies:
The committee urged Russia to repeal the propaganda law, noting that it “encourages stigmatization and discrimination against LGBTI persons, including children, and children of LGBTI families” and “leads to the targeting and ongoing persecution of the country’s LGBTI community, including abuse and violence, in particular against underage LGBTI activists.” The committee called on Russia to “ensure that children who belong to LGBTI groups or children of LGBTI families are not subjected to any forms of discrimination” and to “take urgent measures to prevent bullying of LGBTI children in schools by educating children and school staff and punishing the perpetrators accordingly.”
Scott Lively’s “Greatest Success”
Just a few days after the Russian Duma (parliament) unanimously passed the propaganda law last June, a delegation of U.S. and French anti-gay activists traveled to Moscow at the invitation of the Duma. The U.S. delegates included Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. Brown was there to testify in favor of a bill that would tighten Russia’s laws governing international adoptions, prohibiting international adoptions by same-sex couples and by single people living in countries that recognize marriage equality. The adoption ban passed five days later, and the Russian government just last week officially implemented that law.
Last October, Brown, along with Scott Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries, and several other Americans who had led the fight against LGBTI rights in the United States, was back in Moscow to plan for the World Congress of Families VIII, scheduled for September 2014 in Moscow. At least 14 American conservative leaders have lobbied Russian lawmakers to support the propaganda law and adoption legislation. The Illinois-based World Congress of Families has staff in Russia who have been actively lobbying in favor of the latest anti-gay laws in Russia.
Lively is no stranger to Russia. Nearly a decade ago, he gave up on fighting against LGBTI rights in the United States, setting his sights on Russia, Uganda, and “other countries in the world that are still culturally conservative to warn them . . . and to help put barriers in place.” In 2006 and 2007, he conducted a 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union. In 2006, prior to Lively’s tour, the Duma had overwhelmingly rejected a bill similar to Federal Law 135.
The purpose of Lively’s tour, as he explained in his 2007 Letter to the Russian People, “was to bring a warning about the homosexual political movement,” which he described as “a very fast-growing social cancer that will destroy the family foundations of your society if you do not take immediate, effective action to stop it.”
During the tour, Lively called on Russians to “criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality. . . . [H]omosexuality is destructive to individuals and to society and it should never [be] publicly promoted. The easiest way to discourage ‘gay pride’ parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality.”
Several regional governments in Russia adopted Lively’s proposed propaganda bans before the federal law took effect last June. Lively recently boasted: “My greatest success, in terms of my own personal strategy, is Russia.” He told Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association that the Russian law was one of his “proudest achievements.”
A key chapter in Lively’s worldwide playbook is the argument that lawmakers need to protect families from Western gays who are attempting to recruit their children. In his book, Redeeming the Rainbow, Lively advises opponents of gay rights to fight back against sympathy toward gays by emphasizing child recruitment and rape.
It’s probably no coincidence that in October 2013, during Lively’s last visit to Moscow, the Duma began consideration of a bill that would add sexual orientation as a ground for terminating parental rights. The Duma postponed consideration of the bill in the run-up to the Olympics, but observers predict it will be back before legislators as soon as international attention on Russia fades.
Lively has expanded on his work in Russia and Uganda to include Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, and Ukraine, all with the goal of encouraging the adoption of laws to block the open expression of homosexuality, keep discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity legal, and make pro-gay advocacy a crime.
Lively is being sued under the Alien Tort Statute for his work on anti-gay legislation in Uganda. The suit, brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda, with the assistance of the Center for Constitutional Rights, alleges that Lively’s active participation in a conspiracy to strip away fundamental rights from LGBTI persons in Uganda constitutes persecution.
This post is the second in a five-part series in The Advocates Post about LGBTI rights in Russia and the Sochi Olympics. Part 1 took a look at why the Sochi Olympics in 2014 are important to LGBTI rights in Russia and the rest of the world. Part 3 will explore how Russian authorities are enforcing the propaganda law. Part 4 will examine the societal effects of discriminatory laws such as those in Russia and other countries. Part 5 will analyze a variety of approaches that human rights advocates in Russia and around the world are taking to press for reform of these laws.
In Morocco, a 15 year old girl experienced constant harassment and threats from a 35 year old man in her town. He waited for her each day outside of her school and on several occasions told her, “I will force you to marry me.” One day, he abducted and raped her at knifepoint. The victim made a complaint to the gendarmes, who arrested the man. In his statement to the police, the rapist admitted his crime, declaring that he did it “because it was the only way I would be able to marry her.” In order to avoid scandal, the victim dropped out of school and married him. “I am raped now every day,” she told members of the local association that works with women survivors of domestic violence.
This tragic story is one of many included in a joint submission The Advocates for Human Rights and our Moroccan partner Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA) made recently to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child. The submission draws attention to the serious human rights violations resulting from the application of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which provides that whoever “abducts or deceives” a minor, without using violence, threat or fraud, can escape prosecution and imprisonment if (i) the abductor marries the victim, and (ii) those persons who have a right to request annulment of the marriage do not file a complaint.
Organizations and news reports from Morocco indicate that Article 475 has been applied in cases of sexual abuse of minors in order to preserve the “honor” of the victim and her family. Notably, this issue has received widespread coverage following the 2012 suicide of Amina Filali, a sixteen year-old girl who killed herself after being forced to marry a man – ten years older than her – who had raped her. Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues. Further, associations working at the local level in Morocco report that girls married under Article 475 continue to suffer rape and domestic violence after the marriage.
Information from our Moroccan partners illustrates the extent of the problems with the application of Article 475. One local association that works with women reported that, of 11 cases involving rape of a minor that they handled in 2013, Article 475 was raised in 6 cases; the age of the victims ranged from 14-17, while the age of the rapists ranged from 23-28. In one case, a 14 year old girl was raped by her 28 year old cousin, and she became pregnant as a result. She sought help from the association to file a criminal complaint, and there were several court hearings. DNA testing established that the accused was the rapist. Under Article 475, the two families agreed on a temporary marriage between the rapist and the victim to avoid shame, with a predetermined divorce date after one month of marriage.
Associations working at the local level in Morocco report that the young victims experience tremendous pressure to abandon criminal prosecution and agree to the application of Article 475 from law enforcement, justice system personnel, as well as the families of the perpetrators. Even their own families pressure them to agree to marriage under Article 475 in order to avoid shame. Because all sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal under the Moroccan Penal Code, victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490. In fact, one Moroccan association reported several cases of rape victims who filed complaints to initiate criminal prosecution but were prosecuted themselves under Article 490.
In one instance, a 15 year old girl was raped by a 25 year old man. She became pregnant as a result of the rape, which is considered proof of illicit sexual relations. She did not want to file a criminal complaint because she feared prosecution under Article 490, so she fled her home and sought shelter through a local Moroccan association. The rapist’s family made threats against the victim’s mother, however, and she was pressured to not file a criminal complaint and to marry the rapist under Article 475 instead.
Article 475 must be understood in the context of early marriage in Morocco. While the legal age of marriage for both men and women is now 18 in Morocco,the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.Both the number of petitions for authorization to marry minors and the approval rate are high and increasing. In 2007, 10.03% of marriages were of minors, and 86.8% of the 33,596 petitions were authorized. In 2011, the rate had risen to 11.99% of all marriages and 89.56% of 46,927 petitions for authorization to marry a minor were granted. 33.58% of petitions in 2011 were for minors ages 14-16. The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls. The Family Code provides no threshold minimum age below which authorization to marry may never be granted. Local NGOs report marriages of girls as young as thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.
In practice, judges often issue authorizations based on their own cursory visual examination of the minor girl’s physical appearance and determination that she is capable of assuming “marital responsibilities,” rather than resorting to the required expertise. Reasons advanced by judges for authorizing underage marriage include saving family honor, avoiding scandal, protecting the girl’s chastity and preventing her from debauchery. Some even cite marriage as a solution to poverty. At times judges do not even substantiate their decisions in writing. Corruption among public actors and the ease by which medical certificates attesting to the minor girl’s “maturity” can be obtained are also factors allowing circumvention of the law.
Although bills have been introduced in the Moroccan Parliament that would amend or abrogate Article 475, no final action has been taken on them to date. In addition, in spite of the reality of early and forced marriage for young Moroccan girls, the Moroccan Government has made statements in recent United Nations submissions that Article 475 does not apply to, and has not been applied in, cases of sexual abuse of minors. For example, in response to the most recent concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture, the Moroccan Government stated that Article 475 does not apply in cases of sexual abuse and that there is no statutory text in Morocco that exempts the “perpetrator of child rape from punishment when he makes the child concerned his wife, because anyone who commits rape is punished in all instances, even when he marries the victim of rape.” The Moroccan Government further stated that Article 475 “is not applicable to rape but rather to the crime of the abduction of a minor who leaves the parental home to be with someone and agrees to marry him.”
In other words, in the Moroccan Government’s view and in contrast to the many reports originating from Morocco, Article 475 is intended to address situations involving marriage without the consent of the family where the prosecution for abduction of a minor can be dropped if the victim’s family withdraws the complaint to “maintain good family relations and to protect the make-up of the family if arresting the husband could lead his minor wife to lose any chance of a normal life.”
On January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475. While this is a positive step, the Moroccan government must go further to protect the rights of women and girls. Given the factual situation on the ground in Morocco and the clear violations of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Moroccan government must:
Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish the Article 475 provision that allows a perpetrator of rape to escape prosecution by marrying his victim.
Amend Morocco’s Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code to facilitate procedures for bringing sexual abuse and rape of minors cases, including eliminating discriminatory legal provisions that require proof of actual physical injury and place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim.
Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish criminal prosecutions under Article 490 for “illicit sexual relations.”
Develop and implement a plan for educating the judiciary and public that criminal proceedings against rapists will not be terminated if they marry their victims and that Article 475 is not to be applied in cases of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
Penalize all acts to encourage, pressure, or threaten minors to marry, whether by public or private actors.
Amend Morocco’s Family Code to establish clear and objective criteria under which judicial authorizations for the marriage of minors may be granted in only exceptional cases, and in all events establish a threshold minimum age under which authorization to marry may never be granted.
In addition, we recommend that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child further investigate the issue of marriage of minor girls, as well as the role Article 475 plays in instances of sexual abuse involving minors.
Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »), Art. 475: 1) Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans (Article modifié par l’article premier de la loi n° 24-03 modifiant et complétant le code pénal, précitée), est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 (cf. supra note correspondant à l’article 111) à 500 dirhams. 2) Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.
Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013). In the same Written Communications, another association from a different region reported that Article 475 was raised in 3 of 5 rape cases that they handled where the victim was a minor. A third association reported their experience that in 6 cases where Article 475 was raised since 2011, the average age difference between the victim and the rapist was 10 years (with victims ranging in age from 14-17 and rapists from 23-28). Id.
Id. Note that these numbers are consistent with information from the local level. One local association that works with MRA reported that from January to November 2013, the First Instance Court in Khemisset granted 325 of 442 petitions for authorization to marry minors. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).
Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).
Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).
Abdellah Ounnir, Les justiciables dans le circuit judiciaire relatif au contentieux de la famille, inLe Code de la famille: Perceptions et pratique judiciaire, pp. 89-139 (Morocco: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007);Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc(ADFM), Implementation of the CEDAW Convention: Non-Governmental Organisations’ Shadow Report to the Third and the Fourth Periodic Report of the Moroccan Government(Nov. 2007).
In January 2013, the Justice Minister made a statement to the effect that he would not oppose proposed modifications to 475. A bill (sponsored by MPs) to modify and complete article 475 was adopted by the Council of the 2nd Chamber of Parliament and transferred to the relevant Committee on legislation within that Chamber for review on January 29, 2013. This bill would increase the penalties, eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475, and reinforces the link between 475 and the later sexual abuse of minors articles in the Penal Code. A second bill (sponsored by MPs) presented in the 1st Chamber would eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475 (among other modifications to the articles on sexual abuse), but the version adopted by the legislation committee had eliminated these reforms. Another bill (sponsored by MPs) for a VAW law in 1st chamber that would cancel 475 among its 35 articles was transferred for review to the legislation committee in February 2013. The current status of these three bills is unknown and it is unclear what subsequent steps if any have been taken on these three bills. A proposed VAW bill submitted by the Family Minister to the Government Council (and tabled) did not contain any modifications to Article 475. See http://www.medias24.com/POLITIQUE/5975-Benkirane-desavoue-Bassima-Hakkaoui.html. Most recently, on January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475. http://www.aujourdhui.ma/maroc-actualite/societe/viol-des-mineures-au-maroc-une-loi-debattue-au-parlement-107202.htmlwww.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM
U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 111, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).
U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 112, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).