WASHINGTON — Gathering outside the Nigerian Embassy in Washington to mark the 100th day since the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria, protesters urged more effective action to return them home.
“We're here to talk about over 200 girls who are still in captivity, who have been violated, some who are pregnant, who have been put into sex trafficking,” said Faith McDonnell, Religious Liberty Program director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
“But that's not the end with Boko Haram,” warned McDonnell, who helped organize the July 24 rally. “That's just the beginning.”
The event commemorated the 100-day anniversary since 276 schoolgirls, most between the ages of 16 and 18, were kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria, in the northeastern part of the country.
The girls were taken and held captive by Boko Haram, a militant terrorist organization launched in 2009 with the aim of enacting a narrow view of sharia (Islamic law) in the country. Previously, the organization has targeted government officials, security forces, Christian minorities and moderate Muslims in the predominantly Muslim Northern region of Nigeria.
Protesters at the Nigerian Embassy wore shirts bearing the #bringbackourgirls Twitter hashtag. The hashtag was popularized on social media in the weeks after the attack, particularly through its promotion by first lady Michelle Obama.
“We've had hashtags; we've had voices; we've had marches and rallies. We need more of those,” commented Ann Buwalda, director of the Jubilee Campaign, who also helped host the protest.
“But on the other hand, Boko Haram is still engaged in its violence and barbaric campaign to exterminate Christians from the northeast of Nigeria.”
Human-rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe also spoke at the event, weighing in that “Boko Haram is waging a relentless war against Nigeria’s Christians, and the world is doing nothing to stop it.”
“The abduction of these innocent schoolgirls is a tragedy that has upset millions across the globe, and yet our governments are incapable of rescuing them.”
McDonnell warned that the “intentions of Boko Haram to forcibly Islamize Nigeria through horrific violence are a very serious threat both to U.S. security and to the citizens of Nigeria” and called for greater action from the United States government.
“The State Department continues to downplay Boko Haram’s Islamist nature, preferring to see the terrorist murderers as victims of poverty and marginalization, even though they have been designated as a 'Foreign Terrorist Organization,'” she said in a statement. “Moral equivalency is not the way to handle Boko Haram.”
“Although this rally is about the Chibok girls,” she said, “it is also to call attention to all of the Nigerians who have been killed, left widowed or orphaned and/or displaced from their homes and communities by these jihadists.”