Nigeria’s allies must stop turning a blind eye to state-sponsored crimes and uphold their international law obligations.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said she will seek full investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Nigeria, as well as during the Ukraine conflict.
Fatou Bensouda said in a statement on Friday her office had completed a preliminary examination and found a “reasonable basis to believe” that Boko Haram and its splinter groups had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nigeria, through murder, rape, sexual slavery and torture. Judges must approve the request.
Bensouda’s office has been reviewing the conflict between government forces and Boko Haram and its various splinter groups in western and northern Nigeria since 2010.
She said the office recognised that the vast majority of the crimes were attributable to non-state actors, but that it had also found a “reasonable basis” to believe that members of the Nigerian security forces had also committed crimes.
This included murder, rape, torture and cruel treatment, as well as enforced disappearance and forcible transfer of the population and attacks directed at civilians.
Boko Haram began its violent campaign in northeastern Nigeria in 2009 with the goal of imposing its version of strict Islamic law. Thousands have since been killed and many more displaced.
Bensouda’s office has been reviewing the conflict between government forces and Boko Haram and its various splinter groups since 2010.
Its main group claimed responsibility earlier this month for the massacre of farmworkers in an area outside Borno state’s capital Maiduguri, in which dozens of labourers were mowed down by gunmen on motorbikes.
Agricultural workers were also tied up and had their throats slit in the attack believed to be seeking revenge on villagers for seizing the group’s fighters and handing them over to the authorities.
Amnesty International welcomed the announcement as an “important milestone” and urged the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes, to swiftly begin an “effective and well-resourced investigation”.
“ICC Prosecutor must now follow with immediate action to open a full investigation,” Netsanet Belay, the group’s director of research and advocacy, wrote on Twitter.
We @amnesty fought for this important milestone for years! #ICC Prosecutor must now follow with immediate action to open a full investigation. 10 years has been too long a wait for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity in #Nigeira! https://t.co/i32ESoByoO
— Netsanet D. Belay (@NetsanetDBelay) December 11, 2020
Later on Friday, Bensouda said she would seek permission to open a formal investigation into whether war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during the Ukraine conflict.
Bensouda’s office has been conducting an examination into possible atrocities in the conflict in eastern Ukraine at the invitation of Kyiv since 2014.
She said she had “reasonable basis to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” during the conflict.
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, and fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine the following month between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces.
Bensouda said her examination’s findings included crimes committed during the hostilities, crimes committed during detentions, and crimes in Crimea. She did not name any suspects or indicate which party to the conflict might have committed crimes.
Bensouda’s office is running investigations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya, Ivory Coast, Mali, Georgia, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and a decision on whether to investigate alleged atrocities in the Palestinian territories, is pending.
Bensouda’s term is due to end on June 15 and her successor has not yet been chosen.