In 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram shocked the world by kidnapping 276 Nigerian schoolgirls, sending them into lives of sexual slavery and forced “marriages.” That horrific act was part of a nearly decade-long campaign of brutal violence by the extremist organization against the people of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger in West and Central Africa.
Last year, in response to the horrific kidnapping, I led all 20 women of the United States Senate in urging Secretary of State John Kerry to seek Boko Haram’s addition to the United Nation’s ISIL & Al-Qaida Sanctions List. Subsequently, the United Nations Security Council voted to subject Boko Haram to a complete asset freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo. This crucial vote followed a Global Terrorism Index Report finding that Boko Haram killed 6,664 people in 2014, more than the Islamic State.
As this Congress comes to a close, our nation has taken stronger steps to stop the spread of Boko Haram. In September 2015, the Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation I authored calling for a concerted strategy by the State and Defense Departments to counter this threat. The House passed it unanimously in early December of this year, and it was signed into law by the President on December 14th.
The need for this legislation was recently underscored when Boko Haram bombers attacked a busy market in Madagali, Nigeria, killing at least 50 and critically wounding many more.
Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and continues to commit terrible acts of brutal violence against innocent civilians. My bipartisan legislation signals a renewed congressional commitment to pursuing Boko Haram and bolstering U.S. efforts throughout the region. The already dire situation there will continue to worsen, and this terrorist group will pose a threat not only to African countries but also to the United States and our allies.
The passage of my legislation in the House was aided by the strong backing of the Congressional Black Caucus. In a letter of support, the CBC notes that Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people since 2009. Additionally, as a result of the terrorist insurgency in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, 2.6 million people have become refugees and millions more face starvation. Untold numbers have been tortured, sexually abused, and murdered, creating a humanitarian crisis that may take generations to heal.
Indeed, the very name of the terrorist group proclaims its goal of destroying hope for a better future in the region. By definition, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” We must never forget that the girls of Nigeria were targeted simply because they chose to pursue an education. That mass kidnapping was not an isolated incident: Boko Haram is particularly focused on terrorizing women, girls, and religious minorities, just as the Taliban sought to silence Malala Yousafzai, the teenage girl who was shot by a gunman after she took a school exam in Pakistan.
My legislation strengthens our efforts against Boko Haram, including the development of a long-term diplomatic and military strategy to counter the threat. This strategy includes bolstering the government of Nigeria’s ability to protect schoolchildren and to combat gender-based violence and inequality.
Combatting oppression against women and girls and increasing their opportunities around the world has been a long-standing priority of mine. This legislation sends a clear signal to the international community that these girls are not forgotten and that America will not sit idly by and allow these atrocities committed by Boko Haram or any other terrorist group to continue.