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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Sub-Committee Hearing on Abduction of Nigerian Girls

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s sub-committee hearing addressing the threat of Boko Haram and examining the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls.

“Thank you to Senator Coons and Senator Flake for holding this hearing today.

“We are all appalled at the plight of nearly 300 young women abducted in Nigeria by Boko Haram – which means “education is forbidden” – a phrase counterintuitive to those of us who care about the future or our young people.

“Right now, these girls are separated from their families and – no doubt – are terrified. I have seen the video released by Boko Haram this week and my thoughts – as a father – are with the missing girls and their parents.

“Frankly, in my view, the fact that incidents like this are happening at all in the 21st century should be deeply troubling to every human being. We must reaffirm and recommit ourselves to the fundamental rule of law everywhere.

“As parents – as human beings – we must insist women and girls be treated with dignity and allowed to live and learn in safety from extremists everywhere.

“As Nick Kristof pointed-out in the New York Times on Sunday: “The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.”

“Sadly, while the scale of this incident is staggering, the Boko Haram threat is not a new one. They have led an escalating campaign of atrocities against their own people for five years. They are extremists with a gangster-mentality who represent no interest but their own – targeting young women, young men, churches schools. They do not represent Islam and, in my view, their actions cannot go unanswered.

“The mothers, activists, and concerned citizens who have taken their outrage and grief to the streets of Abuja, London, and Washington, and the electronic highways of Twitter and Facebook deserve credit for focusing the world’s attention on this crisis and insisting that the Nigerian government bring them home.

“Just this past Friday, I joined the outraged citizens in my own state of New Jersey who added their voices to the chorus and took up the cause on social media.

“That said, despite offers of assistance from the United States and other international partners, the Nigerian government’s response to this crisis has been tragically and unacceptably slow.

“I have called on President Jonathan to demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding.

“My understanding is that the team of U.S. technical advisors is now on the ground, supporting existing teams, conducting aerial surveillance, and sharing commercial satellite imagery with Nigerian authorities.

“Beyond what is happening on the ground as we speak, I look forward to hearing our witnesses discuss a plan of action for coordinating with Nigeria over the coming days and weeks.

“Finally, from the thirty-thousand-foot-view, the rise of groups like Boko Haram does not occur in a vacuum. Nigeria has a long history of division along ethnic and religious lines – tensions that terrorists capitalize on creating more distrust and more tension.

“But, as much as we are appalled by the actions of Boko Haram and their tactical effort to use societal fissures to create chaos and distrust, we should also be troubled by a record of excessive force and human rights abuses by Nigeria’s military in dealing with the Boko Haram threat.

“I’m pleased to see that Senator Coons has added an additional witness, Ms. Lantana Abdullahi who has worked in Nigeria on interfaith violence prevention and community reconciliation issues and has brought together civil society groups, government leaders, and security forces to prevent human rights abuses in Nigeria.

“Let me close by emphasize the importance of elevating the issue of sexual violence and violence against women in general to the international arena. I call on my colleagues in Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women’s Act that Senator Boxer and I introduced last week.

“The world is watching and the time is now.

“My thanks to all of our panelists today. Welcome to the Committee.”