Amnesty International has published a substantial report on alleged war crimes committed by the Nigerian armed forces in its fight with militants from Boko Haram.
It says that senior military officers should be investigated for war crimes, including murder, starvation, suffocation and torturing to death of more than 8,000 people. The report names five senior officers and provides details of the case against them.
Nigeria has been under preliminary examination by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor since November 2010. The prosecutor has already agreed that she can have jurisdiction.
In its latest annual report (2014), the OTP said that there is “a reasonable basis to believe” that Boko Haram committed crimes against humanity. And that it was assessing “alleged war crimes committed by all parties to the conflict”.
Nigerian security forces
When it comes to the Nigerian security forces, the prosecutor says she is looking into “alleged crimes committed by Nigerian security forces in the context of the armed conflict. This includes reports of the alleged summary executions of more than 600 people in Maiduguri, Borno State, following an attack by Boko Haram on the main military barracks in the city on 14 March 2014.”
The report concludes: “the Office will continue its analysis of alleged war crimes committed by Boko Haram and by the Nigerian security forces in the context of the armed conflict in Nigeria, in order to refine its identification of potential cases for purposes of the Office’s admissibility assessment. In a speech last year in Abuja, Bensouda made it clear that as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, Nigeria’s military is subject to “legal limits”. And that Nigeria is also responsible for investigating and prosecuting any violations.
It might be useful to compare Nigeria’s case with that of Uganda. The then prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, was invited by the government in Kampala to investigate as it was struggling with the LRA insurgency. And now finally a decade later, the Ongwen trial is due to start. But many local NGOs in Uganda have continued to argue that Ugandan military behaviour needed investigation too. ICC commentator Mark Kersten has reflected those doubts and says “the decision to target only the LRA was strategic on the part of the Prosecutor”.
He quotes James Stewart the ICC deputy prosecutor: “you have to make a choice between action and paralysis and between pragmatism and ideals. And I think if you choose pragmatic action, you really shouldn’t be criticised.”
Following this substantial and detailed set of allegations from Amnesty International, there will be considerable interest in the ICC’s next annual report on how far it has proceeded with its Nigeria examination.
Lead image: Nigerian vigilante to fight Boko Haram (Photo: Abaca/Reporters)