A year after Luis Moreno Ocampo announced he was to look into crimes in Jos, Nigerian rights groups are urging him to “make progress” and bring his “analysis and investigation of allegations of crimes against humanity in Jos to a quick and satisfactory completion.”
“It is now close to one year since the ICC launched an analysis on the Jos situation; and many victims are continuing to ask us for the outcome of the intervention by the ICC. The continuing delay by the ICC to complete its examination of the Jos situation is fuelling and contributing to a vicious cycle of violence and impunity, leaving victims without justice and an effective remedy.”
That is the call of civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sent to Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The group asked Ocampo to do this “for the sake of tens of thousands of victims of violence and unlawful killing waiting for justice; to end impunity of perpetrators and the spreading of violence and insecurity to other parts of Nigeria.”
According to the group, the violence continues to escalate “and the impunity of perpetrators have had a multiplier effect and precipitated continuing violence and unlawful killings in several parts of the country.”
The ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor announced in November last year that is was analysing a massacre that killed over 300 people in January 2010. The killings took place some 30 kilometres south of the city of Jos in Plateau State in central Nigeria, where Christian and Muslim mobs went on a rampage with guns, knives and machetes.
The ICC's decision to launch an examination into possible crimes against humanity followed a petition filed by SERAP just after the massacre. Ocampo's office responded in a letter dated 5 November 2010, saying investigators were analysing if there was a reasonable basis to start investigations. "Analysis will be carried out as expeditiously as possible," the letter said, but further cautioned, "that meaningful analysis of these factors can take some time."
The ICC further said that it would see whether it has jurisdiction over the crimes committed, and if any Nigerian courts are investigating or prosecuting the atrocities.
Court of last resort
SERAP on 29 January 2010 requested Ocampo “to investigate proprio motu allegations of unlawful killing of at least 326 people and perpetration of other crimes under international law during the violence in January 2010 in Jos, Plateau State of Nigeria; and the reports that the military and police used excessive force against both Christians and Muslims in responding to the violence.”
The ICC is a court of last resort and it can act only if states are unable or refuse to deal with the most serious crimes under international law. SERAP says “the government continues to fail to respond adequately to the situation, showing itself to be unwilling or unable to transparently and effectively investigate allegations of crimes against humanity committed in Jos or other parts of the country, or to bring suspected perpetrators to justice. This is contrary to the country’s international legal obligations, including under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” the group added.
The Nigerian government has pledged it will bring perpetrators to justice. But its repeated warnings did not prevent fresh atrocities. “The violence continues to escalate, and innocent citizens continue to be killed and brutalized,” SERAP says. “For several weeks now, there have been series of killings of innocent Nigerians, including the killing of a family of eight in Jos.”
The group therefore urged “the ICC Prosecutor to urgently take forward its intervention in Jos and bring to justice suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity.”
Decade of violence
Nigeria is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 13,500 people have died in religious or ethnic clashes since the end of the military rule in 1999. Plateau state, where Jos is located, lies in the so-called middle belt between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south.
HRW documented an unprecedented outbreak of violence in Jos that claimed as many as 1,000 lives in September 2001. More than 700 people died in May 2004 in inter-communal clashes in the town of Yelwa in the southern part of Plateau State, and at least 700 people were killed in the violence in Jos in November 2008.
Another deadly spate of sectarian violence since 24 December 2010, has killed more than 200 people. The victims, including children, have been hacked to death, burned alive, "disappeared," or dragged off buses and murdered in tit-for-tat killings.