By Emeka Madunagu
The International Criminal Court has agreed to consider a petition by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, requesting the investigation of the alleged unlawful killing of 326 persons during the crisis in Jos, Plateau State and government's unwillingness to prosecute the suspected perpetrators.
A statement by SERAP's Executive Director, Adetokunboh Mumuni, on Monday said the organisation had in a January 29, 2010 letter to the Prosecutor of the ICC at the Hague, The Netherlands, Mr. Luis Ocampo, urged him "to investigate allegations of unlawful killing of at least 326 people and perpetration of other crimes under international law during the violence this month 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."
Responding in a February 8, 2010 letter, the Head of Information and Evidence Unit of the Office of the ICC Prosecutor, M.P. Dillon, said, ""The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court acknowledges receipt of your communication. This communication has been duly entered in the Communications Register of the Office. We will give consideration to this communication, as appropriate, in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As soon as a decision is reached, we will inform you in writing."
SERAP had stated in the petition that it was pursuant to Nigeria's role as a signatory to the ICC's Rome Statute, for which the country deposited its instrument of ratification on September 27, 2001.
It said the Plateau State Police Command had declared that "at least 326 people were killed during the violence. Tens of thousands are displaced, and denied access to humanitarian assistance and basic necessities of life such as food and medical care. Many have not been assisted to return to their homes and land, or provided with alternative accommodation.
"The latest violation of international law in Jos is coming just after the apparently unlawful killings of more than 700 people that followed the Boko Haram crisis last year. Inter-communal, political, and sectarian violence have claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people, including women and children, during the past 10 years."
It noted that government usually responded to outbreaks of violence in many parts of the country by setting up commissions of enquiry, but regretted that only a few of them had ever published their reports.
It said that such recommendations had rarely been acted upon or led to prosecutions.
According to SERAP, "In effect, the government has shown itself unwilling or unable to transparently and effectively investigate and prosecute allegations of crimes under international law committed in the context of the outbreaks of violence in Nigeria, including the latest violence in Jos. This situation amounts to a denial of the victims' access to a fair, effective and prompt system of justice.
"The denial of justice to the victims of violence also violates the Security Council (SC) Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (October 2000), which emphasises the 'responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We are concerned that a cycle of violence has had a deleterious effect on development and has been a core source of instability and insecurity in many parts of Nigeria. The vicious cycle of violence in many parts of the country is breeding impunity of perpetrators, with the Nigerian government unwilling or unable to bring suspected perpetrators to justice. The crimes committed against the Nigerian people in Jos could amount to crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, which fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC."
In an accompanying three-point demand, SERAP urged the ICC to invite representatives of the government to provide written and oral testimonies at the ICC; prosecute those suspected to be responsible for crimes against humanity in Jos; and urge the Nigerian government to "fulfil its obligations under Article 86 of the Rome Statute to cooperate; including complying with your requests to arrest and surrender suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Jos, take testimony, and provide other support to the ICC."
SERAP's lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, described the ICC's response as "an important decision; we look forward to the ICC getting fully involved and addressing the subject matter of the petition. Given the persistent lack of political will by the Nigerian government to address the problem, we believe the intervention by the ICC in this case is especially important as the ICC can once and for all address the responsible of those who instigated the violence in Jos."