A U.S. congressman who led a delegation to Nigeria to investigate Boko Haram in June has accused the Obama administration of withholding key information that could help the Nigerian military fight the Islamic terrorist group, which has all but taken over the northern part of the country.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-TX, suggests a key reason is the administration’s opposition to Nigerian “social policy.”
In the first six months of this year alone, Boko Haram has killed more than 2,000 civilians, and in April, the group kidnapped hundreds of young girls from a school in Chibok with the intention of selling them as sex slaves. Most of the girls remain missing.
“We have information that would help the Nigerian military take back their country and get back those girls,” Stockman told World Net Daily earlier this month. “The mistake on our side – the United States’ side – is that we have laws preventing us from sharing that information with the Nigerian military. And one of the reasons is that we don’t like some of the social policy of the Nigerian government.”
An unnamed source told World Net Daily that the specific policy in question was Nigeria’s ban on same-sex “marriage,” which makes it a crime to enter into any sort of formalized homosexual union, or to in any way assist with one.
“We have laws preventing us from sharing that information with the Nigerian military. And one of the reasons is that we don’t like some of the social policy of the Nigerian government.”
It is unclear to which law Stockman was specifically referring, but Amnesty International government relations manager Adotei Awkei told ABC News in May that the Leahy Law, in particular, has “been a major source of frustration for the Nigerians, who’ve wanted U.S. assistance.”
The Leahy Law bars the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense from providing assistance to foreign military units if there is credible evidence that they have committed “gross human rights violations,” defined as murder of civilians, torture, kidnapping, and/or rape. It also leaves room for the U.S. government to give or withhold aid on a case-by-case basis for lesser human rights offenses. The law, passed in 1997 and named for its sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, does not explicitly take into account a nation’s treatment of homosexuals, but Sen. Leahy vowed in January to push for a companion law banning aid to foreign countries that criminalize homosexual behavior.
Asked directly by LifeSiteNews whether Nigeria’s stance on homosexuality had impacted U.S. response in the region, a State Department spokesman who insisted on anonymity was evasive.
“Over the last few months the U.S. has continued to support our Nigerian partners as they have led efforts to combat Boko Haram and return the Chibok girls,” the spokesman told LifeSiteNews by e-mail. “We have provided intelligence support, personnel, and other tactical and material support. We remain committed to helping Nigeria bring back their girls and helping the region to establish a durable and integrated approach to combating the regional threat of Boko Haram.”
But the spokesman added, “Our stance on LGBT rights is also clear. LGBT rights are human rights. In Nigeria, we’ve spoken out against the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition act. This is a law that not only criminalizes same sex marriage, but also restricts freedom of association, expression and assembly for all Nigerians.”
“We continue to engage extensively at the highest levels of government with the police and with regional and local officials to press the message of nonviolence and non-discrimination,” the spokesman continued. “We are also providing support to civil society, and we’re monitoring closely the implementation of SSMP and its impact on the LGBT persons and their allies. We’ll take appropriate actions as needed.”
Pressed further on whether the Leahy Law might be used to justify withholding information from Nigerian officials, the State Department spokesman said, “The Leahy law prevents the U.S. from providing assistance using funds authorized by the Foreign Assistance Act to security force units or individuals when we have credible information that they have committed a gross violation of human rights. ‘Gross violations’ are defined in statute, and include torture and other forms of cruel and unusual punishment, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, rape, and prolonged arbitrary detention.”
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“We may or may not withhold assistance to units that have been involved in other forms of misconduct or have been implicated in other forms of human rights violations, depending on the facts for other policy or legal reasons,” the spokesman added. “We’ve been very open about our concerns about Nigeria’s human rights record. Promoting respect for human rights is a key aspect of the assistance we provide. In this instance, and in all of its counterterrorism operations, we call on Nigeria to protect civilians, respect human rights, address impunity, and address the underlying causes of the conflict.”
LifeSiteNews reached out repeatedly to Rep. Stockman’s office for clarification on his remarks, but were told he was out of town for the week and unreachable for comment. Multiple staffers told us they were unaware of what law to which Stockman was specifically referring, and all said they were unfamiliar with the situation.
One staffer suggested LifeSiteNews contact the office of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, who accompanied Stockman on the June trip to Nigeria. Mike McQuerry, Jackson Lee’s communications director, was initially cooperative and told LifeSiteNews he was trying to determine whether there was any truth to Stockman’s accusations, but after two days of follow-up, McQuerry stopped returning LifeSiteNews’ emails.
LifeSiteNews also reached out to Amnesty International and the Nigerian Embassy for comment. Amnesty International said government relations manager Adotei Awkei was out of the office for the week and unavailable for comment. Three calls to the Nigerian Embassy’s main switchboard went unanswered.