The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned Mr Karim A. A. Khan, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC), urging him “to investigate the growing cases of abduction of students in several parts of Northern Nigeria, closure of schools, and the persistent failure of Nigerian authorities at both the federal and state levels to end the abduction as amounting to crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the ICC”.
SERAP in an appeal on Sunday by its Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, urged ICC’s prosecutor “to push for those suspected to be responsible and complicit in the commission of these serious crimes, to be invited and tried by the ICC”.
The petition followed a string of abductions and closure of schools in some parts of Nigeria, including the recent one in Zamfara State after scores of students were abducted by gunmen from a state-run high school in Maradun district.
In the petition dated 4 September 2021 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Depriving children of their right to education has severe consequences for their ability to access their fundamental rights. The severe and lifelong harms that result from depriving children of the right to education satisfy the gravity of harm threshold under the Rome Statute”.
SERAP said: “Investigating and declaring cases of abduction of Nigerian students and closure of schools, and the failure by the Nigerian authorities to provide safe and enabling learning environments as crimes against humanity would help to combat impunity, deter future human rights abuses, and improve access of the children to education.”
According to SERAP, “persistent and discriminatory denial of education to girls is a crime against humanity. Repeated abductions, the absence of safe and enabling learning environments, and the resulting closure of schools give rise to individual criminal responsibility under the Rome Statute.”
The petition, read in part: “The crime of abduction is not just a deprivation of a single fundamental human right, but a wholesale effort to re-engineer society and to deny children, including girls their human dignity and agency in all aspects of their lives. Lack of education for girls and women has been shown to have negative impacts on their children and family.
“The persistent failure by Nigerian authorities to end the widespread and systemic abductions, and to provide safe and enabling learning environments for Nigerian children to enjoy their right to quality education amounts to crimes against humanity, which fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC.
“While the Nigerian authorities have primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes of abduction of students, they have repeatedly failed and/or neglected to do so.”
“The absence of any tangible and relevant investigation or prosecution in Nigeria suggests that the authorities are unwilling or unable to carry out genuine investigation or prosecution of those suspected to be responsible for and complicit in the abduction of students.”
It lamented “the consequences of persistent abductions of students, closure of schools, and the failure to provide safe and enabling learning environments despite federal and state authorities yearly budgeting some N241.2 billion of public funds as “security votes”, are similar to those of the offences in article 7(1).
“Senior government officials know well or ought to know that their failure to prevent these crimes will violate the children’s human rights and dignity.
“SERAP is concerned about the growing reports of abduction of Nigerian students and closure of schools in several parts of Nigeria. As Nigeria is a State Party to the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity committed on the territory of Nigeria or by its nationals.”
According to the organization, the abductions and school closure are crimes against humanity.
“The Rome Statute in article 7 defines ‘crime against humanity” to include “inhumane acts causing great suffering or injury,’ committed in a widespread or systematic manner against a civilian population. The common denominator of crimes against humanity is that they are grave affronts to human security and dignity,” SERAP added.
“The ICC should recognize depriving children including girls of the right to education is an inhumane act under Article 7 that brings comparable suffering and harm to its victims as other crimes against humanity.
“The OTP’s Policy on Children recognizes that children are an ‘identifiable group or collectivity’ and ‘targeting [them] on the basis of age or birth may be charged as persecution on ‘other grounds.’
“The fact that only children of the poor attend schools that are often targeted for abductions and closures suggests that the cases highlighted in this petition fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC on ‘other grounds’.
“SERAP believes that substantial grounds exist to warrant the intervention of the Prosecutor in this case, as provided for under Article 17 of the Rome Statute.
“More than 10,000 schools have been reportedly closed in at least seven northern states over the fear of attack and abduction of pupils and members of staff. The states are Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger and Yobe.
“Schools in Nigeria’s north-western Zamfara State have been ordered closed after scores of students were abducted by gunmen from a state-run high school in Zamfara’s Maradun district.
“Among the string of abductions in Zamfara was the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in the town of Jangebe in February. The latest abduction comes after widespread reports of abduction of students and closure of schools in many states of Nigeria, including in north-central Niger State where some 91 schoolchildren were abducted.
“An estimated 1.3 million Nigerian children have been affected by frequent raids on schools by suspected terrorists. Some 13 million Nigerian children are out of school nationwide. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 1,000 students have been abducted from schools in northern Nigeria since December 2020.
“Families and parents have reportedly resulted to paying the terrorists thousands of dollars as ransom to secure the release of their children. An estimated $18.34 million was reportedly paid in ransoms between June 2011 and the end of March 2020.”
“Nigerian authorities have also failed and/or neglected to satisfactorily address the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014, which prompted the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. According to reports, more than 100 of those girls are still missing.
“Also, pursuant to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor has power to intervene in a situation under the jurisdiction of the Court if the Security Council or states parties refer a situation or if information is provided from other sources such as the information SERAP is providing in this case.
“SERAP believes that the ICC exists as a constant reminder of states’ responsibility to combat serious crimes and impunity. The alleged crimes against humanity in Nigeria merit the Court’s attention,” it added.
SERAP therefore urged Mr Khan to:
- Urgently commence an investigation proprio motu on the widespread and systematic problem of abductions of Nigerian students, the failures to provide a safe learning environment, and the persistent closure of schools, with a view to determining whether these amount to crimes against humanity within the Court’s jurisdiction. In this respect, we also urge you to invite representatives of the Nigerian government, the governors of states affected to provide written or oral testimony at the seat of the Court, so that the Prosecutor is able to conclude whether there is a reasonable basis for an investigation, and to submit a request to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authorization of an investigation;
- Ensure the mission by OTP officials to Nigeria for evaluative purposes;
- Bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for widespread and systematic abductions, failures to provide a safe learning environment for the children, and the resulting closure of schools in many states;
- Urge the Nigerian government to fulfil its obligations under the Rome Statute to cooperate with the ICC; including complying with your requests to arrest and surrender suspected perpetrators and those directly or indirectly complicit in the crimes, testimony, and provide other support to the ICC;
- Compel the Nigerian authorities to ensure that Nigerian children are afforded their rights to life, dignity, and quality education in a safe learning environment, and to ensure reparations to victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation and guarantee of non-repetition;
- Encourage Nigerian authorities to implement the provisions of the Rome Statute as part of a general strategy to strengthen the national jurisdiction to assure that they can efficiently investigate and prosecute cases of abduction of children prohibited by the Rome Statute