BOKO Haram in Nigeria has been listed among terrorist groups that are using human trafficking and slavery to fund their activities. Trafficking Terror by the British think tank, The Henry Jackson Society (HJS), finds that there are clear links between terrorists, criminals, and traffickers.
‘Modern slavery provides monetary flows to terrorist organisations such as Islamic State and Boko Haram through the sale and re-sale of human bodies, with reports indicating that kidnapping represents $10-30 million of revenue to Daesh [IS] in 2016,’ the report notes.
‘However, slavery also presents a plethora of hidden, non-monetary benefits by attracting, retaining, mobilising and rewarding fighters. As a result, terrorist organisations legitimise and normalise sexual violence in their ideological and recruitment tactics, and galvanise on the use of sexual violence to spread terror and achieve their aims,’ the report adds.
‘Terrorists are using organised crime tactics such as money laundering, migrant smuggling, drug and firearms trafficking, and human trafficking. Sexual slavery markets in territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have been common, as has the use of human trafficking marketplaces in Libya.’
Activists point out that slavery in the Sahel region is being compounded by the ambiguous attitude by the government of Mauritania and its President, Mohamed Ould Abdel Azziz, towards the issue. The country criminalised slavery as late as 2007 – becoming one of the last countries in the world to do so – but the law has not been implemented.
Abdel Azziz, has been criticised by anti-slavery bodies for not taking any interest in pushing for Mauritania’s legal system to deal robustly with slavery in the country. ‘The slave-owning classes still dominate the judiciary and the police,’ noted a spokesman at Anti-Slavery International in London. ‘Mauritania is one of the last countries in the world where people are still born into slavery and literally owned by other people, facing a lifetime of abuse and forced labour.
‘Although a new anti-slavery law was passed in 2015, [Abdel Azziz] remains reluctant to translate it into action, cracking down on anti-slavery activists instead. Although no definitive survey was ever carried out, thousands of people are estimated to be in descent-based slavery.
‘Born into slavery, they are literally owned by their masters,’ Anti-Slavery International added. ‘Under a misguided interpretation of Islam, those in slavery are told that their paradise is bound to their master. Many believe that it is Allah’s wish for them to be enslaved. In reality, Islam dictates that a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim.’
Carla Clarke, Senior Legal Officer at Minority Rights Group International in London said:
‘The real issue is the lack of political and judicial will [in Mauritania] to end slavery. Passing legislation is relatively simple. Implementing it however requires real commitment which we simply have not seen.
‘Instead, we’ve seen the complete opposite with numerous complaints brought under the existing 2007 law failing because of lack of adequate investigation by the authorities or cases simply languishing in the courts without any hearings,’ Clarke added.
Abdel Azziz is now preoccupied with seeking a third term, contrary to the constitution, and, under intense pressure, he is clamping down on his opponents, including local anti-slavery organisations.
Sarah Mathewson, Africa Programme Co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International, said: ‘It is ironic that the Mauritanian government congratulates itself on passing the new anti-slavery law on the one hand but is prosecuting anti-slavery activists on spurious charges and is planning to quash whatever little freedom anti-slavery organisations have with the other.’
The HJS report, using case studies of IS and Boko Haram, illustrates how sexual violence plays a key role in sustaining and funding trafficking and terrorist networks. It examines the use of sexual violence and modern slavery to fund terrorism, with a specific focus on Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Libya.
The report’s author, Nikita Malik, said: ‘The international community must recognise and address the nexus between this criminality and security. Historical revenue streams, including taxation and oil sales, to groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram are decreasing.
‘These are being replaced with hostage-taking and ransom efforts, meaning modern day slavery may increase as Daesh struggles to sustain its financial reserves.’
British MP Henry Smith, a member of the International Development Committee, said: ‘The report highlights the profoundly important, but so far largely unexamined, criminal interconnectivity between human trafficking, sexual violence and terrorism.’
The report says that terrorists are using various routes in the Sahel region to transport their victims, adding: ‘Disputes over the border between Nigeria and Niger have contributed to the creation of a trafficking route for sexual purposes that was in use as early as 2008.’ One route, according to the report starts from the south of Nigeria and goes through Niger and Libya before reaching Europe.
Things are compounded by the ‘illicit economies’ in the Sahel, according to Malik, who added that this was making it hard ‘to protect the victims of human trafficking and prosecute perpetrators of violence under international law.’ She urged the UK government to interpret Britain’s Modern Slavery and Terrorism Acts ‘more broadly in order to reflect the spectrum of crimes committed by individuals using sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism.’
The report calls on Britain’s Department for International Development and the Foreign Office to ‘pressure Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Nigeria to outlaw sexual violence.’