It has been ten years since the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into possible international crimes in Nigeria.
In 2015, the OTP identified eight potential cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity under Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute, which would go on to broadly define the scope of its preliminary examinations in Nigeria. Of these eight “potential cases”, six concern conducts by Boko Haram and two conducts by the Nigerian Security Forces.
Nigerian government has repeatedly promised to cooperate with the prosecutor by investigating allegations of international crime. Indeed, over 20 different forms of inquiries and panels have been set up by different authorities of the Nigerian government to investigate allegations of serious crimes and violations committed by armed insurgents and Nigerian security forces since 2009. These include the Special Board of Inquiry (SBI) – established by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in March 2017 and the Presidential Investigation Panel to Review Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations and Rules of Engagement (PIP)established by the President in August 2017. While these measures taken by the Nigerian government, on face value, appear to represent genuine effort to investigate credible allegations made against military and CJTF members, critical look observation revealed that these panels and commission of inquiry were never designed to identify perpetrators and recommend any criminal investigations or prosecutions, despite their mandate. This boils down to lack of political will.
However, it has been a long wait for victims of grave human rights violation who had waited for justice these 10 years. It is becoming increasingly clear that Nigeria is not willing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for heinous crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in the northeast. What’s more, further violations continue to occur since the preliminary examination by the ICC. This development was not lost on the prosecutor who appeared hesitant in making up her mind on whether or not to open an investigation into the situation in north east as at December 2019 when she released the report on her preliminary examinations. She however made it clear that she is losing patience with the failure by to investigate and prosecute those responsible for Rome Statute crimes.
10 years is a long time to wait for justice. Nigerian authorities have the primary responsibility to ensure that these victims get justice. By failing to ensure justice for the victims, the government is inadvertently promoting a climate of impunity. We missed and continued to miss a great opportunity to break this circle of impunity by falling to bring to justice the perpetrators of human rights violation in the north east.
My experience documenting abuses committed around the world reinforces my belief that lack of justice often fuels further abuses. This has effectively played out in Nigeria as further violations amounting to crime under international law has occurred repeatedly since 2010. These violations include the massacre of Shiites in Zaria in 2015 and pro-Biafra supporters in Anambra in 2016 and most recently the killing of #EndSars protesters in Lagos. Although the government has set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the #EndSARS massacre, there is no guarantee that the panel will not end up the way other inquiries ended.
All victims of human rights violations committed by agents of the state, or by individuals acting with the state’s consent, have a right to justice and to adequate reparation, including financial compensation and rehabilitation. Reparation should include legal measures necessary to restore the victim’s dignity and reputation. The victims, their relatives and society as a whole are also entitled to seek measures which guarantee an end to impunity and prevent the repetition of such crimes in the future.
As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the launch of the OTP investigation, it is important to reiterate that delays in ensuring justice and initiating reparation processes for victims in north east have left many survivors and family members frustrated and angry. Many have lost a breadwinner, beloved husband, wife, son or daughter. They are demanding accountability — something which they should be fully entitled to as victims of human rights violations.
Nigeria should break away from circle of impunity by ensuring that human rights violations wherever it occur in the country and no matter how long it takes will be investigated, perpetrators punished and victims compensated.
Sule Jackson is a public affairs analyst based in Lagos