POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.
On February 2, 2015, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement calling on all parties to refrain from violence in the Nigerian elections, which were originally scheduled to be held in February 2015.
The Prosecutor’s statement regarding the danger of election-related violence is grounded in ICC experience. She noted that “[e]xperience has shown that electoral competition, when gone astray, can give rise to violence and in the worst case scenarios, even trigger the commission of mass crimes that ‘shock the conscience of humanity.’” Severe factional post-election violence in Kenya (in 2007-08) and Ivory Coast (in 2010-11) led the Prosecutor to bring criminal charges against individuals in both countries.
The Prosecutor’s warning regarding Nigeria has teeth because preliminary examination conducted by her Office into previous violence in Nigeria have advanced to phase 3 (of four phases). Analysis in phase 3 follows upon previous determination that there is a reasonable basis to believe that requirements for the ICC’s subject matter and territorial jurisdiction can be met, and focuses on the question of whether investigation by national authorities is sufficient so as to preclude further investigation by the ICC.
The Prosecutor is looking into allegations of violence committed by Nigerian security forces, while also giving particular focus to widely reported actions by the Nigerian insurgent group, Boko Haram. On May 8, 2014, the Prosecutor issued a public condemnation of Boko Haram’s abduction of over 200 schoolgirls. In her February 2, 2015 statement, she noted that such actions, “which shock the conscience of humanity,” must be prosecuted by Nigerian authorities or by the ICC.
The ICC’s authorizing statute focuses on the investigation and prosecution of crimes already committed. It does not explicitly set out specific responsibility for the Prosecutor to take proactive measures to prevent future crimes. Nevertheless, in its November 2013 Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) stated that “prevention of crimes” is one of “the overarching goals of the statute.” Accordingly, the OTP will work “proactively,” which includes “issu[ing] public, preventive statements in order to deter the escalation of violence and the further commission of crimes ….”
To achieve these goals, the Prosecutor noted that she was sending a team from her Office to Nigeria “to further engage with the authorities and encourage the prevention of crimes.” She forcefully stated, “[n]o one should doubt my resolve, whenever necessary, to prosecute individuals responsible for the commission of ICC crimes.”
Following the Prosecutor’s February 2 statement, the Nigerian electoral commission announced that it was postponing the elections until March 28, 2015. The commission said the postponement was necessary because troops needed to protect polling stations in northern Nigeria, which had been diverted to address an upsurge of violence by Boko Haram. The postponement has met with diverse reactions in Nigeria and elsewhere. While some view it as necessary to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters in the north, others suspect it is part of an effort to keep the current government in power.