Boko Haram: ICC may open war crime investigations in Nigeria next year

Nigerian Soldiers
Nigerian Soldiers

The International Criminal Court (ICC) may open investigations into alleged rights abuses in the decade-long Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria, Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director, has said.

“An ICC investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict in northeast Nigeria is now inevitable,” said Belay.

According to AI, the move by ICC to investigate alleged rights abuses committed by both the Nigerian military and Boko Haram terrorists was activated by the prosecutor’s further confirmation “that the Nigerian government is not taking steps to deliver justice” to offenders.

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is an officer of the International Criminal Court whose duties include investigation and prosecution of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the court.

Since the commencement of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009, there have been several cases of reported extrajudicial killings and rights abuses believed to have been committed by actors on both sides of the insurgency.

Since 2009 when Boko Haram founder, Muhammed Yusuf, was extrajudicially killed alongside many members of his armed group, allegations of such crimes continued to trail the activities of the Nigerian military prosecuting the war.

In December 2018, Amnesty International released a damning report on both the Nigerian military and Boko Haram with a call on The Hague to investigate the many allegations of war crimes.

However, the Nigerian government has repeatedly denied claims by AI and other rights groups. The Nigeria army had in reaction to AI’s report of December 2018 accused the rights group of plotting to “destabilise” and “dismember” Nigeria.

The Prosecutor of the ICC spoke on the preliminary examinations of reported cases, “which sets out the work of the ICC over the last year looking at countries around the world where crimes may have been committed to deciding whether to open investigations,” Amnesty International’s Belay said

AI said the Prosecutor has also confirmed that “she will make a final decision in 2020 on whether to proceed to investigate specific crimes.

“Should Nigerian authorities fail to demonstrate tangible steps to fulfil their obligations, she will be bound to proceed towards a full investigation.

“Victims have been waiting for justice for over 10 years. Nigeria has already demonstrated that it is not willing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for heinous crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in the northeast.

“The ICC should have already launched an investigation but there can be no doubt that the time will come in 2020 for the ICC to step up to its role as the court of last resort.

“States parties to the Rome Statute must step up to provide the necessary resources to the Court and reiterate cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor to enable such an investigation into the situation in Nigeria.”


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Since the beginning of the conflict in July 2009, Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces have committed war crimes and other serious violations and abuses of human rights.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Nigeria in 2010. On Friday, it released its 2019 report on preliminary examinations. It appears that the Office still has not determined whether or not to open an investigation into the situation, close to 10 years after the opening of the preliminary examination.

However, it is clear that the Prosecutor is losing patience with the failure by Nigeria to investigate and prosecute those responsible for Rome Statute crimes.

In December 2018, Amnesty International published its report ‘Willingly Unable: ICC Preliminary Examination And Nigeria’s Failure To Address Impunity For International Crimes’ which critically assessed the ICC-OTP’s preliminary examination in Nigeria, and the ability and willingness of the government of Nigeria to ensure accountability for crimes committed by Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces.

Our analysis showed that Nigerian authorities have deliberately failed to investigate or prosecute crimes committed by both sides of the conflict, Amnesty said.

Based on this research and analysis, Amnesty International has been calling the OTP to request the opening of an ICC investigation in Nigeria.

A year after this report, Amnesty reiterated its call in a set of updated recommendations to the OTP and Nigerian authorities published this week.


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