By Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister and UN special envoy for global education
It is now urgent that leaders of all faiths speak with one voice against the perversion and distortion of Islam by Boko Haram terrorists. Their recently issued video, which talks of the forced conversions of the 280 abducted Nigerian school children, follows their warning last weekend that their religion justified them selling girls into sex slavery for as little as seven dollars per girl.
Women gather on May 8, 2014, in western Niger to ask the UN to pursue Boko Haram Islamists who are responsible for the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls. Nigeria’s president said the mass abduction of the schoolgirls in Nigeria marks a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers join the search to rescue the hostages. Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility in a video, saying his extreme Islamist group is holding the schoolgirls as ‘slaves’ and threatening to ‘sell them in the market.’ BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images
Their violent assaults in the name of religion against innocent school girls have to be condemned throughout the world as we alert the Nigerian people to the true evil of a sect that claims to have its own special insight into Sharia law.
More than three weeks ago, I called for international action with logistic help for surveillance and satellite reconnaissance to locate and rescue the girls. Now, members of the Global Faiths Coalition for Education, including those representing the Islamic faith, are calling for condemnation of Boko Haram’s distorted theological claims that seek to justify slavery and rape.
Their proposed trade in girls — that they be exchanged for Boko Haram prisoners captured by the Nigerian authorities — shows that they have no interest in the welfare of the girls other than as pawns in their military game.
That is why faith leaders across Nigeria — some of whom I am in contact with already — and across the world must come together under the Global Faiths Coalition for Education in condemning any attempt to use schools as weapons of war and to justify atrocities on a fabricated interpretation of the Koran.
The new video gives us some hope that the girls may not have yet been dispersed across Africa and can be found. It challenges rumors that 50 girls had been seen as far away as the Central African Republic and lessens fears that they are now scattered throughout Chad, Cameroon and Niger. The video, however, increases pressure on the Nigerian government to mobilize its international help which now includes China, France and Israel as well as Britain and the USA.
Having met Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday [May 9] in Abuja, I can confirm his determination now that he has international technical support to move quickly to locate the girls and attempt to rescue them.
Students hold signs outside the state government house in Lagos, Nigeria, where groups called for the release of nearly 300 Chibok boarding-school girls, kidnapped by Islamist extremists a month ago. B PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
I have now seen interviews with the very brave Chibok girls who took their chances to escape after the devastating burning and looting of their school and village. It is, however, clear that as the girls were being taken from their dormitories and marched off in lorries late at night, many were so in fear of being shot that they missed their opportunity to run away
The Boko Haram pattern of behavior makes it all the more important that the safe schools initiative launched by Nigerian business leaders last week gets off the ground quickly. While Boko Haram are a small extremist faction with limited demographic reach, it will take a tougher approach to school security and safety to reassure girls’ parents and teachers that their school in the northern states is safe enough to attend. That is why foreign governments are now offering financial support for security guards and for proper fortifications and security equipment to give any school threatened by a terrorist attack the best possible chance of surviving it intact.
We can do more to create safe schools. In 2011, the United Nations designated attacks on schools as war crimes, and on March 7, 2014, only two months ago, the security council of the U.K. required UN authorities to increase the monitoring of the military use of schools and asked all states to take measures to deter any militarization of school precincts.
In the next few days under the banner “See it, Name it, Stop it: End and Prevent Attacks on Schools,” Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, will call a vigil and launch her guidance note to enable better protection of pupils in conflict zones. It has taken four weeks for the world to come together to provide military, security, and financial and moral support for the Chibok girls. Not a moment must be lost in locating the Chibok girls and making schools for all girls safer.
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