Nigeria's New Wave of Atrocities Against Christians by the Islamic State in West Africa

In December 2019, news began to filter out of Nigeria that a Daesh affiliated terror group has been responsible for the brutal murder of several Christians. The new wave of killings does not come as a surprise.

Nigeria has been haunted by such acts of violence against Christians for many years.

The spike in atrocities perpetrated by a Daesh affiliated group, Islamic State in West Africa, adds to the terror unleashed by Boko Haram, a terror group that pledged allegiance to Daesh in the past, and massacres of Christians by Fulani militias.

This should also not come as a surprise. The growing impunity in Nigeria is an open invitation for such atrocities to continue. This impunity must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Names of the abducted and still enslaved schoolgirls are displayed on their desks. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Because Nigeria ratified the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court (the ICC) has territorial jurisdiction in Nigeria to investigate alleged international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. On November 18, 2010, the Prosecutor of the ICC opened a preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria.

This followed several communications received by the Office of the Prosecutor (the OTP) to the ICC in as early as 2005. However, today, almost ten years later, this preliminary examination has not yet been finalized. Without its conclusion, a formal investigation cannot be opened.

The preliminary examination has focused on the crimes committed in the regions of central and northern Nigeria and the Niger Delta, and the crimes committed by Boko Haram across Nigeria. It has examined political and sectarian violence since approximately 1999, including clashes between Berom groups and Hausa-Fulani, Gamai and Jarawa, and between Hausa-Fulani Muslims and Igbo. Having identified multiple issues which require scrutiny, in its 2015 report on the progress of the preliminary examination, the OTP identified six potential cases of Boko Haram committing crimes against humanity and two cases of such crimes being committed by the Nigerian security forces.

The OTP confirmed that there is a reasonable basis to believe that since 2009, Boko Haram has been committing crimes against humanity in Nigeria. These include (i) murder pursuant to article 7(1)(a), and (ii) persecution pursuant to article 7(1)(h) of the Statute; and war crimes including “murder pursuant to article 8(2)(c)(i); cruel treatment pursuant to article 8(2)(c)(i) and outrages upon personal dignity pursuant to article 8(2)(c)(ii); intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or against individual civilians pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(i); intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education and to places of worship and similar institutions pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(iv); pillaging a town or place pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(v); rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(vi); conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed groups and using them to participate actively in hostilities pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(vii) of the Statute.”

Over the years, the OTP continued to expand its focus. In its 2018 report, the OTP confirmed that it has been considering the “attacks allegedly carried out by Fulani herders and Christian settlers in the context of the violence in Nigeria’s North Central and North East geographical zones.” It goes on to state that “this violence, which has been observed by the [OTP] since 2016, is often referred to as a conflict between Fulani herders and Christian farmers, stemming from limited access to water, land and other resources.” The ICC has yet to confirm whether the acts fall within its jurisdiction.

The very long time taken to deliberate the situation in Nigeria is discouraging and does not give hope that the ICC can secure justice for the victims. What is even more concerning is that the continuing impunity will encourage further crime. This new wave of atrocities perpetrated by the Daesh affiliated terror group is evidence that the situation will only deteriorate.

What is also concerning is that the issue of violence based on religion or belief in Nigeria is greatly neglected.

For example, Boko Haram has largely targeted Christians in Northern Nigeria, targeting that amounts to persecution as a crime against humanity. Boko Haram has been abducting women and girls, and forcing Christian women and girls to convert and marry. Among the abducted women and girls, Leah Sharibu, a 16-year-old Nigerian girl, one of the 110 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram members from their school in Dapchi in February 2018, continues to be enslaved despite the fact that all of the other girls have now been released. According to one of the other girls, Leah declined to renounce her Christian faith and this is the very reason Boko Haram continues to enslave her.

Similarly, the atrocities perpetrated by the Fulani militia show clear signs of targeting Christians, including the destruction of churches, the seizure of land and properties belonging to Christian farmers. Reports have also emerged of the Fulani militia kidnapping ‘Christian schoolgirls to marry them to Muslim men.’

In its 2015 report, Open Doors lists detailed examples of such targeted attacks. The report rebuts the argument that the clashes were caused by environmental degradation and result from migration. The report presents a more comprehensive picture incorporating some elements of religious persecution.

Indeed, the conflict is extremely complex. However, the religious element of the atrocities cannot be swept under the carpet.

To ensure justice for the victims, it is essential that the OTP's preliminary examination proceeds quickly to a formal investigation. Furthermore, justice must be achieved for all the victims of the atrocities in Nigeria.

Justice will not be achieved if the victims in the Middle Belt continue to be neglected and forgotten in this process. Furthermore, as the Daesh affiliate group unleashes terror, it is paramount to ensure that their atrocities are included in any investigations and prosecutions. The vicious circle of crime and impunity must be broken.

Ewelina U. Ochab is a legal researcher and human rights advocate, and author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East.” Ochab works on the topic of persecution of minorities around the world, with main projects including Daesh genocide in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram atrocities in West Africa, and the situation of religious minorities in South Asia. Ochab has written over 30 UN reports (including Universal Periodic Review reports) and has made oral and written submissions at the Human Rights Council sessions and the UN Forum on Minority Issues. Ochab is currently working on her PhD in international law, human rights and medical ethics. Ochab authored the initiative and proposal to establish the UN International Day Commemorating Victims and Survivors of Religious Persecution. The initiative has led to the establishment of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on August 22. Follow @EwelinaUO Copyright 2020 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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