Global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International has applauded the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a case of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both the Boko Haram insurgents and the Nigerian government fighting them.
ICC’s chief prosecutor, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Friday, said a decade-long probe has found enough evidence to merit opening a full-scale investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Boko Haram extremists, as well as by Nigerian government forces battling them in a deadly insurgency.
Winding up the preliminary probe into the North Eastern Islamic uprising, Prosecutor Bensouda said, Friday, there is a “reasonable basis to believe” that the Boko Haram and its splinter groups linked to it committed crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery and torture, as well as intentionally targeting schools and places of worship and using child soldiers.
The Gambian-born Bensouda specifically referred to acts committed by Boko Haram, whose 11-year insurgency in the country has claimed the lives of at least 36,000 people.
Boko Haram and its splinter groups have committed acts that constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and cruel treatment, according to Bensouda.
However, while the “vast majority of crimes were committed by non-state perpetrators, we also found a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Nigerian Security Forces committed acts constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes”, Bensouda said.
These included; murder, rape, torture, and cruel treatment as well as enforced disappearance and forcible transfer of the population and attacks directed at civilians.
Bensouda said the next step will be to request authorization from judges to open a formal investigation.
Boko Haram and the breakaway faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), are fighting to impose strict Islamic Shariah rule in Nigeria.
Thousands have been killed in the more than 10-year-old insurgency and more than a million people have been displaced.
Bensouda said the preliminary probe took a decade in part because her office was monitoring investigations in Nigeria linked to the conflict.
Ultimately, she said that, “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.”
Meanwhile, reacting to the development, the Amnesty International said it welcomed the announcement and urged the court to swiftly begin an effective and well-resourced investigation.
Amnesty International’s Director of Research and Advocacy, Netsanet Belay, described it as ‘the first meaningful step towards justice that we have seen for victims of atrocious crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in Northeast Nigeria.’
Continuing, the Amnesty International chief said: “This is an important milestone, but it must be followed with immediate action to open a full investigation. For the victims of war crimes and potential crimes against humanity to see justice, it’s crucial that the Prosecutor swiftly begin an effective and well-resourced investigation.”
ISWAP split from the Boko Haram jihadist group in 2016 and rose to become a dominant force. It has increasingly been attacking civilians, killing and abducting people on highways as well as raiding villages for food supplies.
The violence in Nigeria has spread to neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the militant groups.
Around two million others have been displaced, according to UN figures.