This report documents numerous serious abuses by Boko Haram, particularly those perpetrated against women and girls. Human Rights Watch and other national and international groups have also documented serious human rights abuses committed by government security forces. Nigerian authorities have an obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.
There have been some limited efforts at investigations and prosecutions of Boko Haram fighters implicated in serious violations of humanitarian and human rights law, including serious violations against girls and women. However, there have been few investigations and no prosecutions of security force members implicated in abuses. Much more is needed to ensure fair and effective justice in Nigeria, in accordance with international standards.
Since 2009 security forces have arrested thousands of people suspected of involvement in Boko Haram’s violence. However, the whereabouts of a large majority of those arrested are unknown; others are detained by security forces in military detention facilities for prolonged periods without trial. The few who are facing trial for terrorism-related offences, including the 2011 bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, often have their cases interrupted for prolonged periods while they remain in detention. The interruptions were sometimes caused by lack of legal representation for the defendants, absence of the prosecutor, or transfer of defendants to unknown locations in Abuja, outside the court’s jurisdiction, while the trial is underway. Human rights groups have raised serious concerns over the torture of suspects in detention and the detention of suspects without charge.
According to the attorney general of the federation, Nigerian courts have convicted 40 people alleged to be affiliated with Boko Haram for terrorism-related offenses. He did not provide details of the courts that convicted the 40 individuals, but this number includes the conviction of 5 suspects in July 2013 for bombings in Niger and Nasarawa states in 2011, and the conviction of Kabiru Sokoto in December 2013 on terrorism charges for the December 25, 2011 bombing of St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla Niger State. He is currently serving a life sentence. Mustapha Umar, the alleged bomber in April 2012 of the SOJ plaza in Kaduna, which housed ThisDay newspapers and two other media establishments, was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2013. At time of writing, a few more trials of suspected Boko Haram members are ongoing. On September 30, 2014, a federal high court in Lagos sentenced three suspected members of Boko Haram to 25 years imprisonment each for ‘participating in acts of terrorism.’
In June 2014 a suspect alleged by military authorities to have been involved in the Chibok abductions and May 2014 killing of the Emir of Gwoza was also arrested along with at least two of his alleged accomplices, both of them women. However, at time of writing, no one has been tried for the abduction of hundreds of women and girls by Boko Haram.
Many victims of abduction and their family members who spoke to Human Rights Watch expressed frustration with what they perceived to be the lack of investigation and prosecution by government authorities for the crimes committed against them. Many abduction victims noted their disappointment in the Nigerian police for failing to interview them as part of an effort to identify the perpetrators. The experiences of the victims, many of whom spent weeks in the insurgents’ camps, could provide the police and others with valuable information. Interviews with the victims could facilitate police investigations and further action to apprehend Boko Haram perpetrators. The perceived lack of interest by the police and their failure to document abductions and abuses constitutes a further violation of the victims’ rights to justice and to an effective remedy.
A 19-year-old victim described how police officers in her village reacted when her father informed them of her escape after many weeks in the insurgents’ camp in September 2013: “They told him we were lucky, and did nothing else.” Sensing the lack of interest by the police in the girl’s case, and fearing for her safety, the family left the village. Their home was burnt by unknown persons, but she believes that Boko Haram members carried out the attack in revenge for her escape.
Another woman, 22 years old, expressed similar frustration: “I did not bother to report to security or police after my escape because they are aware that these abductions have been happening. And even when others had reported to them in the past, they did nothing.”
There have likewise been few efforts by the Nigerian criminal justice system to credibly and professionally investigate the many serious abuses committed by members of the Nigerian security forces, despite the numerous incidents brought to the attention of the Nigerian authorities by way of reports from national and international human rights organizations, the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission, the media, and diplomats. In July 2013 the military set up a commission called the Joint Investigation Team (JIF) to “screen and categorize detainees apprehended in the course of operations in the northeast.” Out of 1,400 detainees screened at detention centers in the northeast, the JIF recommended the release of 167 detainees and the prosecution of 500. Another 614 cases were to be further reviewed.
In December 2013, the National Human Rights Commission established a working group to investigate the detention of people in arbitrary and unofficial places across the country. The group is yet to complete its work.
Following the August 5, 2014 release by Amnesty International of a report and video showing alleged executions by members of the Nigerian army in 2013 and 2014, the Defence Headquarters tasked a team of senior officers and forensic experts to investigate the incidents and pledged to hold soldiers involved to account. The team, comprising of active military officers, may not be sufficiently independent to conduct an impartial, transparent, and credible investigation of the allegations against fellow military personnel.
Nigeria ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on September 27, 2001, and therefore became a founder member of the Court, which has had, since July 1 2002, jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in the territory of Nigeria or by Nigerian citizens since. Under the Rome Statute, those who can be held criminally responsible for the crimes include not only those who directly commit them, but also those who order them or assist in their commission. Military or civilian commanders whose subordinates commit crimes that the superiors knew or should have known about could be criminally responsible, as could commanders who failed to take all necessary and reasonable steps to prevent the crimes or to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is complementary to national criminal jurisdictions, which means that the ICC will not hear a case that is being investigated or prosecuted by Nigeria, unless the Nigerian authorities are unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out the investigation or prosecution. Nigeria has failed to make the Rome Statute part of its domestic law; therefore crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide are not crimes in Nigerian law, and neither is the principle of command responsibility for crimes. Suspects of crimes committed in the Boko Haram insurgency have thus been tried for terrorism under the Terrorism (Prevention) Act of 2001, portions of which contravene international human rights and due process standards, including the designation and banning of organizations as terrorist groups with no option of judicial appeal, and the power to detain suspects for prolonged periods without formal charge.
The ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria in November 2010, a step that may or may not lead to an investigation, and is yet to take a decision on whether or not to open an investigation. The prosecutor’s current analysis is focused on assessing whether Nigerian authorities are conducting adequate domestic proceedings in relation to the crimes allegedly committed by Boko Haram. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor in 2013 requested that Nigerian authorities provide additional information on national efforts “in view of the apparent discrepancy between the high number of Boko Haram suspects detained and the number of national proceedings.”
The ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, visited Nigeria in July 2012 and again in February 2014. In 2012 she emphasized that the ICC’s “intention is not to intervene,” but to “ensure that Nigeria has the primary responsibility of investigating and prosecuting” these crimes.