By Peter Sullivan - 05/06/14 05:02 PM EDT
All 20 women senators sent a letter to President Obama Tuesday asking the administration to press for additional sanctions against the group responsible for kidnapping more than 200 girls in Nigeria.
The letter, organized by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) calls for the administration to work for Boko Haram, and a related group, Ansaru, to be added to the U.N. Security Council’s list of sanctioned organizations linked to al Qaeda.
“While we applaud the initial U.S. condemnation of the kidnapping, we believe there is much more that the United States government should do to make clear that such an attack will not be tolerated,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to press for the addition of Boko Haram and Ansaru to the United Nations Security Council's al-Qa'ida Sanctions List, the mechanism by which international sanctions are imposed on al-Qa'ida and al-Qa'ida-linked organizations.”
The State Department declared that Boko Haram had al Qaeda links in its designation of the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization last year.
Pressure has been rising for action to rescue the kidnapped girls. The White House announced Tuesday it was sending a security team to help Nigeria find them, and the Senate passed a resolution condemning the kidnapping.
A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office raised the possibility the girls could be sold into slavery and threatened prosecution. “[We] warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law,” spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva on Tuesday. “These can, under certain circumstances, constitute crimes against humanity.”
“Anyone responsible could be arrested and prosecuted at any time in the future,” he added.
The girls were kidnapped from their school, a point the senators emphasized in their letter.
“The girls were targeted by Boko Haram simply because they wanted to go to school and pursue knowledge, and we believe the United States must respond quickly and definitively,” they wrote.
Separately, Collins said she wants U.S. special forces deployed to help rescue the girls.
“More can be done by this administration. I would like to see special forces deployed to help rescue these young girls. Some of these girls are as young as nine years old,” Collins told CNN.
Mikulski, the other organizer of the letter, who was interviewed alongside Collins, said instead that regional governments should take the lead.