•Urges ICC to probe alleged atrocities
•Says Insurgency claimed 27,000 lives, displaced 1.8m people since 2009
•Not enough high-level Boko Haram commanders on trial in Nigeria – ICC
•We will respond after reading report — Information Minister
By Clifford Ndujihe & Dapo Akinrefon (With agency report)
LAGOS—FOREMOST human rights group, the Amnesty International, AI, yesterday, called on the International Criminal Court, ICC, to start a full-blown investigation into atrocities committed in the Boko Haram insurgency, accusing the Nigerian government of failing to bring military officials and commanders of the insurgent group who are responsible to justice.
“The Nigerian government is unwilling and unable to meet its obligations as a member of the ICC to investigate and prosecute both Boko Haram and the Nigerian military,” the group said in its reaction to fresh findings published by the ICC that reaffirmed a widespread lack of accountability on the part of the Nigerian government.
In the report, the International Criminal Court said Nigerian Security Forces, had committed war crimes against humanity.
It said it has received “a total of 169 communications” from Nigeria and that its assessment had shown that security forces in Nigeria have committed war crimes, varying from murder, torture to intentionally attacking the civilian population.
“Specifically, the Office found a reasonable basis to believe that the NSF committed the war crimes of murder pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(i); torture, cruel treatment pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(i); outrages upon personal dignity pursuant to article 8(2)(c)(ii); and intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population,” the ICC said.
Fatou Bensouda,the ICC prosecutor, in her annual report on preliminary examination activities (2018), dated December 5, also said the ICC found reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram also committed war crimes against humanity.
Indeed, the Boko Haram insurgency has reportedly killed more than 27,000 people and left 1.8 million homeless in the North-East geo-political zone since 2009.
Shielding of military officials, Boko Haram members
The ICC’s office of the prosecutor said in the December 5 report that most of the Boko Haram-linked cases being pursued by the Nigerian government are related to membership of, support for, or failure to report terrorists.
“The office of the prosecutor should urgently open a full investigation into the atrocities that have been committed in North-East Nigeria,” Amnesty International’s Africa Director for Research and Advocacy, Netsanet Belay, said in a statement accompanying the group’s latest report, titled: ‘Willingly Unable: ICC Preliminary Examination and Nigeria’s Failure to Address Impunity for International Crimes.’
Mr Belay said since the Nigerian government’s prosecution of Boko Haram had focused only on membership or support for the sect rather than the horrific crimes of key actors in the insurgency, it was obvious that Nigerian authorities have only undertaken superficial criminal proceedings regarding crimes committed by Boko Haram; only a couple of which may be relevant for the conduct that may be covered by one of the potential six cases being reviewed by ICC prosecutors.
“The Nigerian government has no intention to undertake genuine investigations,’ Mr Belay emphasised. “Instead it has pursued ‘sham’ criminal proceedings to ‘shield’ perpetrators from an ICC investigation and to give a ‘veneer’ of accountability in Nigeria.”
The report has also demonstrated that ‘mass trials’ conducted against suspected members of Boko Haram since October 2017 have been so flawed that it is impossible to conclude that those who were convicted were actually guilty of any crime at all.”
In fact, many of these “mass trials are an effort to give a pretence of legality to the mass unlawful detentions committed by the Nigerian military throughout the conflict, which have seen thousands die in captivity through starvation, thirst and overcrowding”, Amnesty International said.
Nailing the state actors
As of June 2015, Amnesty International had documented that the Nigerian military forces had extra-judicially executed more than 1,200 people and arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000, of whom at least 7,000 have died as a result of the inhuman conditions in custody.
The group said its findings also showed that Nigeria has failed to open a single relevant criminal case against military officers and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, an allied vigilante group, a situation that flouted the Rome Statute on crime against humanity.
Several panel of inquiries raised for the purpose of unearthing and correcting cases of abuses by the military have ended without any serious conclusion, Amnesty said.
“Despite much publicity and posturing neither military led inquiry – the Special Board of Inquiry or the Presidential investigation panel – was ever intended, designed or conducted with a view to result in criminal prosecutions, or even to identify perpetrators and recommend further criminal investigations or prosecutions,” it said.
ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatma Bensouda, opened a preliminary examination in 2010 into eight potential cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the violence.
Six cases relate to the jihadists and include the killing of civilians, mass kidnapping, attacks on schools and places of worship, sexual violence, and the use of children in conflict.
The other two — involving attacks on civilians, mass arrests and detention of suspects, abuse, torture and summary executions — concern the military.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in June 2015 promised to “leave no stone unturned to promote the rule of law and deal with all cases of human rights abuses.”
Bensouda acknowledged in her latest annual report that Nigeria appeared to have taken “concrete steps” towards investigating the allegations.
She wrote there appeared to be a “tangible prospect” of proceedings against Boko Haram members but not against troops “since the Nigerian authorities tend to deny any allegation.”
However, the Amnesty International suggested that the Nigerian Government was keeping her “in limbo” by giving the impression of domestic action but in reality doing very little.
“Eight years since the opening of the preliminary examination and faced with the continuing commission of crimes under international law and the possibility of a never-ending preliminary analysis, it is time for the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) to open a formal investigation in Nigeria,” it said.
Not enough high-level Boko Haram commanders on trial in Nigeria – ICC
The International Criminal Court said despite the trials of Boko Haram suspects by the Nigerian government, there are limited number of cases against high-level Boko Haram commanders in Nigeria.
This was revealed in the annual report of ICC activities for 2018 presented by Fatou Bensouda, lead prosecutor of the ICC, at The Hague, Netherlands.
According to the report, the development seems to be related to the fact that top commanders of Boko Haram have yet to be apprehended or were killed during military operations.
“Despite the fact that the Nigerian authorities are conducting trials, it appears that at this stage, there is a limited number of cases against high and mid-level Boko Haram commanders. This seems to be related to the fact that top commanders have yet to be apprehended or were killed during military operations,” the report read.
It read in parts: “Nonetheless, the trial of Kabiru Umar, a mid-level Boko Haram commander was successfully concluded in December 2013 and the trial of Mohammed Usman (aka Khalid al-Barnawi), a former high-level Boko Haram commander and subsequent leader of the break-away faction Ansaru commenced in March 2017. The charges in both of these high-profile cases however, appear to be unrelated to the potential cases identified by the Office.
“Military prosecutions have focused so far on individual cases of low-ranking soldiers charged under the AFA, and failed to address the contextual elements of crimes against humanity or war crimes identified by the Office.
“Since October 2017, the Nigerian authorities initiated three rounds of mass trials before special courts of the Federal High Court (“FHC”) in Kainji, Niger State, to process thousands of Boko Haram suspects held in military detention in Kainji. Such trials took place in October 2017, February 2018 and July 2018 during which most of the 1,669 Boko Haram suspects detained in Kainji were tried.
“It appears from the information available that the majority of defendants were discharged without trial for lack of evidence. Further, the great majority of the more than 360 persons convicted in these trials were charged with providing material and non-violent support to Boko Haram. Several observers also raised fair trial and due process concerns with respect to the Kainji trials.”
We’ll respond after reading the report — Information Minister
Contacted on the allegations of the Federal Government shielding military officers and the insurgents’ commanders from prosecution, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed declined comment on the matter until he reads the report. “If I do not see the report, I will not comment on it,” he said.
Recently, Defence Headquarters spokesman, Brigadier-General John Agim, reportedly accused the Amnesty International of alleging crimes against the military without evidence.
“Amnesty International has become a major distraction that we have to overcome in the war against Boko Haram. They are always claiming a crime has been committed here and there but never presented any evidence,” Agim had said.
According to him, Amnesty International has evolved a habit of accusing only serving military commanders, indicating that its aim was to frustrate the government’s effort rather than help in ending the war or getting justice for victims.
“They usually spend years accusing serving commanders, but when those ones are out, they immediately leave them and shift their focus on the new ones in service. They should take any evidence they have to the ICC and leave the Nigerian government and military out of it.”