phase: Preliminary Examinations, Admissibility Assessment
The Preliminary Examination of the Situation in Nigeria focuses on alleged atrocity crimes committed during an armed conflict which involves Nigerian government forces (Security Forces, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)) and Boko Haram. The preliminary examination has focused on alleged Boko Haram crimes from 2009 onwards, and alleged crimes by Nigerian security forces committed during the non-international armed conflict from 2011 onwards, but has also potentially examined information of crimes beyond the armed conflict context.
In July 2009, Boko Haram attacked police stations and government buildings in northern Nigeria, and Nigerian government forces counterattacked the Boko Haram compound in Maiduguri, killing an estimated 100 Boko Haram members and its founder. Boko Haram is a Muslim armed group formed to impose Shariah law over northern Nigeria. After the July 2009 clash, Boko Haram radicalized under a new leader and promulgated its vision of Islam through suicide bomb attacks, killings, kidnappings, sexual slavery, forced marriages, and sexual violence. Boko Haram carried out Christmas day bomb attacks against churches in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. In February 2014, Boko Haram burned or shot to death at least 29 teenage boys at a Buni Yadi state college. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls from a Chibok school.
In December 2015, claiming a security threat, Nigerian government forces attacked the Islamic Movement in Nigeria compound in Zaria, killing an estimated 830 Shiites. After international calls for investigation of the Zaria massacre, Nigeria created a judicial commission. Nigeria’s judicial commission reported that Nigerian government forces had used excessive force and killed 348 Shiites.
Nigeria is a State Party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ratified the Rome Statute on September 27, 2001.
On November 18, 2010, after receiving communications of alleged atrocity crimes committed in Nigeria, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) announced a preliminary examination. In an August 2013 report, the OTP determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram committed crimes against humanity. In a November 2015 report, the OTP identified eight potential groups of allegations involving crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by Boko Haram (attacks against civilians perceived as “disbelievers”, abduction and imprisonment of civilians, attacks on educational buildings, recruitment and use of child soldiers, attacks against women and girls, targeting of buildings dedicated to religion) and Nigerian security forces (systematic arrests and abuse of suspected Boko Haram supporters, attacks against civilians). The OTP’s 2019 report identified two further types of potential crimes that could form subject matter jurisdiction: alleged Boko Haram attacks against personnel or objects involved in humanitarian assistance and alleged Nigerian security forces alleged recruitment and use of child soldiers.
In its December 2020 report on preliminary examination activities, the OTP detailed the conclusion of its admissibility assessment of the situation in Nigeria, concluding that potential cases arising from the situation would likely be admissible. The OTP determined that Nigeria’s domestic investigations and proceedings to date had been limited in scope and depth, finding that proceedings against Boko Haram either “did not cover substantially the same alleged conduct” or were against low-level perpetrators, and that proceedings against Nigerian security forces either were absent or “did not demonstrate any tangible, concrete, and progressive steps by the authorities.” The OTP also determined that the gravity of cases the OTP identified sufficiently met standards under the Rome Statute.
On December 11, 2020, the Prosecutor announcedthe conclusion of the preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria. Specifically, the OTP confirmed that there is a reasonable basis to believe that both members of Boko Haram (and its splinter groups) as well as members of the Nigerian Security Forces committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.
As of December 2020, the preliminary examination in Nigeria is therefore concluded, pending a prosecutorial decision to seek authorization from a Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation. The Prosecutor stated that the OTP, along with the incoming prosecutor, needed to consider prioritization of the OTP’s workload and other concerns before taking decisions on moving forward in several concluded preliminary examinations.
Other Resources (non-ABA):
Claire Felter, Backgrounder: Nigeria’s Battle with Boko Haram (Council on Foreign Relations, 2018)
For more information on the preliminary examination in Nigeria, please visit the ICC page.
Updated April 2021.