Geneva: The United Nations rights chief on Wednesday urged Nigeria to show compassion and make it easier for women and girls who became pregnant in Boko Haram captivity to access abortions.
Boko Haram militants are estimated by Amnesty International to have kidnapped more than 2,000 women and girls in northeastern Nigeria since the beginning of 2014, including the 276 girls seized from their school in Chibok last year in a kidnapping that sparked global outrage.
"During their captivity, lasting in many cases for months or even years, women and girls have been sexually enslaved, raped and forced into so-called `marriages`," Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein told the UN Human Rights council in a special session on Boko Haram.
"Many survivors of these horrific experiences are now pregnant by their rapists ... and several reportedly wish to terminate these unwanted pregnancies," he said.
But in Nigeria, abortion is only legal when the life of the woman is at risk, Zeid said, warning that a lack of access would only add to the horrendous suffering the former captives had been through.
"I strongly urge the most compassionate possible interpretation of the current regulations in Nigeria to include the risk of suicide and risks to mental health for women and young girls who have suffered such appalling cruelty," he said.
He also called on authorities to help women and girls freed from Boko Haram enslavement, who often face stigmatisation, to reintegrate into their communities. Boko Haram`s insurgency, centred in northeastern Nigeria and aimed at creating a hardline Islamic state, has led to the deaths of at least 15,000 people since 2009.
During his speech, Zeid accused Boko Haram of a litany of other atrocities in Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, including massacres, beheadings, torture, burning people to death in their own houses and forcing children to become soldiers.
He demanded that perpetrators be brought to justice, but also warned that hard-handed tactics by the military and police fighting Boko Haram risked exacerbating the suffering of civilians and increasing support for the militants.
He pointed to reports of "shocking conditions of detention in north-eastern Nigeria, including torture and lack of food or water," and the lengthy detention of women and children released from Boko Haram captivity, reportedly for screening and rehabilitation.
He also referred to an Amnesty International report last month accusing senior Nigerian officials of "war crimes" in connection with the Boko Haram battle.
Nigeria`s acting foreign minister Bulus Z. Lolo slammed the Amnesty report as "demoralising", insisting to the council Wednesday that it constituted an "undue interference in the work our security agencies are undertaking under very difficult circumstances against the insurgents (which) can only serve to strengthen and embolden Boko Haram."
Nigerian forces were not the only ones accused of heavy-handedness.
Zeid referred to the widely criticised case of 84 children, aged seven to 15, detained since last December "in near starvation conditions" after Cameroonian forces raided what was first said to be a Boko Haram training camp, but which witnesses have said is an ordinary Koranic school.
Cameroonian ambassador Anatole Fabien Nkou told the council all 84 children had now been released, and that they had only been held long enough "to establish their level of involvement" in Boko Haram crimes.