Could Boko Haram in Nigeria Be the ICC’s Next Target?

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has set her sites on Nigeria. Specifically, she is investigating alleged crimes against humanity committed by the Boko Haram militant group since 2009.

In a report released today in the Hague, the prosecutor takes one big step towards a full scale investigation of Boko Haram by the ICC.  The so-called “Article 5” report is part of the legal process by which the prosecutor offers her preliminary assessment of whether or not a situation is liable for prosecution by the ICC. She’s found that, indeed, Boko Haram’s crimes could fall under her jurisdiction.

The Office considers that there is a reasonable basis to believe that, since July 2009, Boko Haram has committed the following acts constituting crimes against humanity: (i) murder under article 7(1)(a); and (ii) persecution under article 7(1)(h) of the Statute. In particular, the information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that, since July 2009, Boko Haram has launched a widespread and systematic attack that has resulted in the killing of more than 1,200 Christian and Muslims civilians in different locations throughout Nigeria. The scale and intensity of the attacks have increased over time. The consistent pattern of such incidents indicates that the group possesses the means to carry out a widespread and/or systematic attack, and displays the degree of internal coordination and organizational control required to that end. The attacks have been committed pursuant to the policy defined at the leadership level of Boko Haram, which aims at imposing an exclusively Islamic system of government in northern Nigeria at the expense of Christians specifically. Opponents of this goal have been targeted as well.

The report also offered a preliminary investigation of alleged crimes committed by Nigerian security forces in their counterinsurgency campaign against Boko Haram; communal violence between Muslims and Christians in central and northern Nigeria; and crimes  in the oil rich Niger Delta.  It found that those crimes did not meet the ICC’s jurisdictional criteria for various reasons.

Boko Haram, on the other hand, very much does fit the criteria of a group that can be investigated by the ICC. The alleged crimes have occur in the territory of an ICC member state; the alleged crimes were widespread and systematic; and they were  carried out by an organized organized group with a policy of targeting civilians.  This does not mean that the ICC will automatically investigate. The next step is for the court to decide whether or not Nigerian authorities are willing or able to carryout the investigation and prosecution.  If not, then the “Situation” in Nigeria (as ICC investigations are known) could be the 9th investigation by the ICC since it opened its doors 10 years ago.