(Johannesburg) – A committee set up by the Nigerian government to develop an amnesty framework for members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram should exclude serious crimes that violate international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the committee made public today. Instead, the Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North should demand accountability for these crimes.
Boko Haram has carried out a brutal campaign of violence across northern Nigeria. A Human Rights Watch report in October 2012 found that Boko Haram’s attacks, including the murder of civilians and the persecution of Christians, likely amount to crimes against humanity under international law.
Human Rights Watch has documented serious human rights abuses carried out by government security forces in response to Boko Haram attacks, including dozens of extrajudicial killings, burning of civilian property, and detention-related abuses. Those responsible for these crimes should also be held to account, Human Rights Watch said.
“Boko Haram members have committed heinous crimes,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Justice for the gravest abuses, whether by Boko Haram or security forces, is essential for victims and building long-term peace in Nigeria.”
The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced in 2010 that it had opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria. In November 2012 the office concluded that there was “reasonable basis to believe" that Boko Haram had committed crimes against humanity. The preliminary examination may or may not lead to an ICC investigation.
The ICC – of which Nigeria is a member – has the authority to intervene when the domestic authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute serious crimes in violation of international law. International law more generally provides that such crimes should be prosecuted, and rejects amnesty for the gravest crimes.
“International standards are clear that the gravest crimes should be prosecuted, not amnestied,” Bekele said. “Moreover, the ICC has the authority to intervene where national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute these crimes.”
Experience by Human Rights Watch over the past 20 years in many countries also suggests that peace without justice all too often leads to renewed cycles of violence. By contrast, prosecutions send the message, especially to those who would commit such crimes, that no one is above the law. This helps cement peace and stability, in addition to giving redress to victims.
“Time and again we have seen that failing to hold to account the people responsible for the gravest crimes can fuel the commission of more atrocities,” Bekele said. “To escape the cycle of violence, Nigerians need justice.”