Can the ICC Prosecute Boko Haram?
March 3, 2014
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August of last year Boko Haram, a terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria, made headlines when the International Criminal Court (ICC) reported that there was reason to believe that the group had committed crimes against humanity. According to a UN News Centre article at the time, the report detailed that the group had launched systematic attacks that resulted in the death of over 1,200 Christian and Muslim civilians since July 2009. More recently, on March 2nd, Boko Haram killed at least 90 people in two separate bomb attacks in northern Nigeria. Last month, according International Christian Concern and Associated Press, Boko Haram attacked a secondary school that left approximately 100 people dead.
Boko Haram’s indiscriminate attacks towards civilians leave little room for debate; the group should be tried for crimes against humanity. As a part to the Rome Statue, the ICC has the right to investigate the group, as well as the allegations that the government has not done enough to prevent the attacks.
AP Photo/Jossy Ola
The challenge lies, however, in Boko Haram’s decentralized command structure which makes identifying perpetrators extremely challenging. The leadership of group lies with a 30-person Shura council, with each member overseeing the activity of a cell of militants focused on a particular geographic areas. Members outside of the Shura council are generally unaware of the operations of other cells. As such, cells can operate independently from the concerns and vulnerabilities of other cells. Details on its leadership structure are scarce and a continued source of frustration for investigators.
The secretive and cell-like structure of the organization are clearly designed to avoid compromising the organization if a member or cell is captured. The group’s focus on local grievances, its decentralized structure, and secretive nature make the possibility of prosecution, let alone peace negotiations, seem unlikely. In such a situation, the ICC will need to create new and innovative ways to gather evidence in order to indicted Boko Haram’s worst perpetrators. What may be even more concerning, however, is how dependent the ICC’s success at indicting such perpetrators may be linked to the government’s ability to end the group’s activity.