Jubilee Campaign Engages the International Criminal Court at The Hague

In May 2012, Jubilee Campaign undertook an advocacy visit to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. This trip was a follow up to the first visit in 2011 as well as Jubilee’s participation in the ICC’s meetings at the United Nations in December 2011.

Jubilee Campaign’s delegation met with the ICC to present our objections to five troubling mischaracterizations contained within the Nigeria Section of the Office of the Prosecutor’s Preliminary Examination Report to the Assembly of States Parties.  The misplaced emphasis of the ICC Preliminary Examination Report had dismayed victims of violence, especially in Plateau State and those forced to flee violence-prone Northern States.

The delegation included Executive Director Ann Buwalda (US); lawyers Emmanuel Ogebe (US), Gregory Lar (Nigeria); and Netherlands directors Peter Bronsveld and Deborah Voordewind. Jubilee made it clear to the preliminary examinations officers that the ICC Prosecutor’s report failed to accurately portray incidents and causes.  Instead, the report alarmed victims who had high expectations in the ICC’s first publicly released report regarding its lengthy preliminary investigation into Nigerian violence.

Jubilee Campaign pointed out that the illustrations contained within the ICC Report did not accurately reflect the nature or the causes of the violence which the ICC has been examining since 2004.  The delegation told the ICC, “By singling out ‘the Middle-Belt states’ and ‘the Plateau State specifically’ as experiencing ‘recurrent clashes,’ the impression is to downplay if not utterly disregard the violence occurring within any of the northern states.  The office of the prosecutor had failed to mention even one northern state or specific incident despite the overwhelming statistics of incidents occurring in 12 states in the north of the country in 2012 that took hundreds of lives.”

The term “clash” used by the prosecutor’s report is also problematic in that it implies a moral equivalence between sides, and Jubilee objected to this description in light of the numerous documented attacks at night while victims were asleep or otherwise utterly defenseless. “Clash” does not accurately describe the cold-blooded massacre of 2- and 3-year old children as has occurred in Plateau state.

Providing evidence from its interviews and other reliable sources, Jubilee also told the ICC that “The report conceals the source of the violence by implying that the primary reason violent ‘clashes’ have occurred in Nigeria is due to divisions between ‘indigene’ and ‘settler’ communities and ethnic differences, rather than any other causes such as the religious motivated attacks of Boko Haram.”  Nigeria’s federal constitution makes this distinction between indigenous citizens and those who have settled into areas, and the Plateau State in particular has not only given equal parliamentary representation but in certain areas even greater representation to communities viewed as “settler.”  The implication that the cause of the violence is due to this distinction as a policy of the state ignores the Constitution of Nigeria and the reality within Plateau State.

The omissions and distortions contained within the ICC preliminary report may result from its restrictive interpretation that the preliminary examinations office cannot directly meet with state government officials.  During Jubilee Campaign’s July 2011 meeting with the ICC in The Hague, their policy not to meet with state government stakeholders was highlighted.  The subsequent December 2011 prosecutor’s report illustrates how an inquiry limited to only the federal government’s information about the violence under review distorts the facts.

At the UN in December 2011, Jubilee co-signed a letter to the Chief Prosecutor on this issue and said, “We are US- based groups focused on global human rights issues especially in Africa. Recently, we learned that while non-governmental organizations such as ours have access to share information with the Office of the Prosecutor, local officials in cities where there is conflict cannot do so without going through federal or central authorities.  We find this situation absurd and unfair if inquiries are to be properly conducted. This situation is best illustrated by the recent crisis in Libya. If a commander of a Libyan platoon had wanted to share information on crimes against humanity with the OTP, it would be counterintuitive for him to be required to first obtain permission from the indicted President Qaddafi before meeting with the court. The second concern is, of course, that for any legal system to be fair and just must by definition treat all parties equally. This is the essence of the administration of justice. Accordingly, we feel that it is manifestly unjust for any party to have limited access or denied access to the Prosecutor who is investigating matters that occur within their purview. We urge you to review your internal processes and procedures to allow equal access. State officials have not been engaged, consulted or invited to provide information for the preliminary investigation.”

While local officials confirmed to us before our May visit that they have still not been consulted by anyone from the ICC, Jubilee hopes that with the impending change in leadership at the ICC in June, these inequities can be redressed.

Jubilee Campaign’s analysis concluded, “Therefore, in view of the stated objections, we implore the Office of the Prosecutor to reword its interim report so that violence in the twelve northern most states is properly acknowledged; that the primal cause of the on-going violence in the northern states of Nigeria is acknowledged as being religiously-motivated, not ethnic tensions; that the Boko Haram be mentioned as an actor in the on-going violence across the northern states; that the post-election violence be better represented as occurring in the northern states, not the south; and that the issue of federal and state court jurisdiction in Nigeria be addressed and an acknowledgement of the efforts of both the federal and the Plateau State governments in prosecutions be made.” Any future report from the ICC prosecutor’s office must reflect the reality from all stakeholders, including victims and the state governments where the crimes occurred.

Jubilee is appreciative of the ICC’s attentiveness and kind reception and looks forward to further future engagement on issues of mutual interest and concern.