ICC Prosecutor Seeks Full Investigation Into Boko Haram Extremists, Nigerian Forces

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A woman walks past Nigerian soldiers at a checkpoint in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town liberated from Boko Haram, April 8, 2015.
A woman walks past Nigerian soldiers at a checkpoint in Gwoza, Nigeria, a town liberated from Boko Haram, April 8, 2015.Credit: Lekan Oyekanmi/AP

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor says a decade-long probe has found enough evidence to merit opening a full-scale investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by Boko Haram extremists — as well as by Nigerian government forces battling them in a deadly insurgency.

Winding up the preliminary probe into northeastern Nigeria’s Islamic uprising, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Friday there is a “reasonable basis to believe” Boko Haram and splinter groups linked to it committed crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery and torture, as well as intentionally targeting schools and places of worship and using child soldiers.

She added that while the “vast majority of criminality” in the conflict was by Boko Haram, prosecutors also found grounds to believe that members of the Nigerian Security Forces committed crimes including murder, rape, torture and using child soldiers.

Bensouda said the next step will be to request authorization from judges to open a formal investigation.

Boko Haram and the breakaway faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province, are fighting to impose strict Islamic Shariah rule in Nigeria. Thousands have been killed in the more than 10-year-old insurgency and more than a million people have been displaced.

Bensouda said the preliminary probe took a decade in part because her office was monitoring investigations in Nigeria linked to the conflict.

Ultimately, she said that, “our assessment is that none of these proceedings relate, even indirectly, to the forms of conduct or categories of persons that would likely form the focus of my investigations.”

Amnesty International welcomed the announcement and urged the court to swiftly begin an "effective and well-resourced investigation.”

Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Director of Research and Advocacy, called it "the first meaningful step towards justice that we have seen for victims of atrocious crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in Northeast Nigeria.”

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