In recent six years, the world has witnessed two clear cases of genocidal atrocities. The first occurred in Syria and Iraq, perpetrated by Daesh against religious minorities such as the Yazidis and Christians. The second took place in Myanmar, perpetrated by the Burmese military against the Rohingya Muslims and other religious minorities. Yet, there are evolving stations where mass atrocities may be occurring and that appear to be neglected. One such example is in Nigeria.
On November 18, 2010, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Nigeria. The preliminary examination followed several communications received by the Office of the Prosecutor (the OTP) which suggested that mass atrocities had occurred, involving Boko Haram militants based in Nigeria.
Having identified multiple issues which require closer scrutiny, the OTP named six potential cases where Boko Haram had committed crimes against humanity and two cases where such crimes were committed by the Nigerian security forces. The six cases include Boko Haram 1) targeting non-believers which resulted in several deaths; 2) kidnappings, abductions, and imprisonment of civilians, as associated with murder, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment; 3) attacks on schools, other buildings designated for education and attacks against students and teachers; 4) recruitment and use of child soldiers; 5) attacks on women and girls; 6) intentional targeting of buildings designated for religious practices, including churches and mosques.
Thousands have been affected by the litany of mass atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram. However, among the staggering statistics, the fates of those suffering are lost. The fate of people like Leah Sharibu get lost among the suffering of thousands of people.
Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old Nigerian girl, was one of the 110 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from their school in Dapchi, Nigeria, in February 2018. Despite the fact that most of the girls have now been released, Boko Haram refused to let Leah go. According to one of the other girls, Leah declined to renounce her Christian faith. This is the reason Boko Haram continues to enslave her. Attacking women and girls is a signature tactic of Boko Haram. Boko Haram subjects women and girls to physical and mental abuse, rape and sexual violence, forced labor and much more. However, among its atrocities, those that are of a religious nature are significant too and cannot be neglected.
Nonetheless, the atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram are not the only mass atrocities in Nigeria that require urgent attention.
Indeed, on June 15, 2020, the U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG), a cross-party group of parliamentarians representing both houses of the U.K. Parliament, released a report about the mass atrocities perpetrated in Nigeria by the Fulani militia. As the report “Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide?” notes: “The exact death toll is unknown. However, thousands of civilians are thought to have been killed in attacks led by Fulani herders and periodic retaliatory violence. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust report that over 1,000 Christians were killed between January-November 2019, “in addition to the estimated 6,000+ deaths since 2015.” Amnesty International estimate that between January 2016 and October 2018 “at least 3,641 people may have been killed, 406 injured [and] 5,000 houses burnt down. Local groups, such as the Christian Association of Nigeria, report higher figures: between January and June 2018, over 6,000 people were killed by Fulani herders.”
Fulani militia continue to perpetrate mass atrocities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. Their crimes continue to go unreported. This is why earlier this year, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Baroness Cox, Fiona Bruce MP and many other British Parliamentarians wrote to the ICC sending further evidence of the atrocities for the OTP’s consideration. At this stage it is not clear whether the cases will be considered by the ICC. However, it is clear that the Nigerian Government will not address the crime adequately or at all. Indeed, according to a statement by President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, the “false allegations of persecution of Christians” are “a most misleading campaign.” If the Nigerian Government is blind to the issue of religious persecution in the country, it is clear that the issue will not be addressed. However, the international community cannot be blind to the reports of atrocities and must ask important questions. How will the Nigerian Government explain the mass killings in Nigeria as recorded by several international organizations? What is the Nigerian Government doing to ensure that the acts are investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted?
There are several steps that need to be taken to address the atrocities and the APPG’s report maps these, including comprehensive investigations and prosecutions. However, the comprehensive response will not happen until we recognize, once and for all, the nature and severity of the atrocities. The crimes must be recognized for what they are and “a most misleading campaign” is not that name.
By Ewelina U. Ochab