The International Criminal Court (ICC) has confirmed plans to investigate Boko Haram factions and the military in Nigeria for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The ICC made this announcement in a statement released on Friday evening. HumAngle had reported correctly hours earlier that the international tribunal planned to take additional steps in ensuring victims of war crimes got justice in the country.
“Following a thorough process, I can announce today that the statutory criteria for opening an investigation into the situation in Nigeria have been met,” said ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
She explained that there was a reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram insurgents committed war crimes and crimes against humanity such as murder; rape, sexual slavery, including forced pregnancy and forced marriage; and enslavement.
Other crimes committed by the group included torture, taking of hostages, intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, intentionally directing attacks against aid workers and their facilities, conscripting child militants and so on.
Nigerian security forces, Bensouda continued, have also committed war crimes. These included murder, rape, torture and cruel treatment, enforced disappearance, and intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population.
The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor further concluded that the security forces were guilty of unlawful imprisonment, conscripting and enlisting underage children into the armed forces, and persecuting on gender and political grounds.
“These allegations are also sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by my Office, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. My Office will provide further details in our forthcoming annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities,” Bensouda said.
The ICC had opened a case file on Nigeria and started preliminary examinations as far back 2010. Bensouda said the reason it took 10 years to conclude its findings was to give the Nigerian authorities enough time to investigate and prosecute offenders locally.
“However, our assessment is that none of these proceedings relate, even indirectly, to the forms of conduct or categories of persons that would likely form the focus of my investigations,” the ICC Prosecutor said.
“And while this does not foreclose the possibility for the authorities to conduct relevant and genuine proceedings, it does mean that, as things stand, the requirements under the Statute are met for my Office to proceed.”
She explained that the next step was to ask the ICC’s pre-trial judges to open investigations. She said her office counted on the full support of the Nigerian authorities and the Assembly of States Parties during the next stage.
“And as we look ahead to future investigations in the independent and impartial exercise of our mandate, I also look forward to a constructive and collaborative exchange with the Government of Nigeria to determine how justice may best be served under the shared framework of complementary domestic and international action.”
Amnesty International, reacting to the ICC Prosecutor’s announcement, described it as a milestone decision and “first meaningful step towards justice that we have seen for victims of atrocious crimes” in Northeast Nigeria.
Netsanet Belay, Amnesty’s Director of Research and Advocacy, however, cautioned that the announcement must be followed with immediate action to open a full-blown investigation.
“Victims have already waited a decade for justice. The Office of the Prosecutor must now move swiftly to seek the judicial authority needed to initiate the full investigation; further delays will only serve to frustrate victims and run the risk of evidence and witness testimony being lost forever,” Belay said.
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