Worried by violations of the rules of engagement by security operatives in dealing with civilian population during disturbances, the Federal Government has sent a bill to the National Assembly for a law that will punish offenders in concert with international law.
The bill forbids unjustifiable attacks against civilian population.
Offences punishable include rape, torture, murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of populations, enslavement, imprisonment, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy or enforced sterilisation or any form of sexual violence of comparable gravity.
Besides soldiers that may directly be involved in such abuses, military commanders will also be liable for war crimes committed by the troops, such as “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”
Consequently, culprits will be tried by the International Criminal Court.
The proposed law is known as ‘A Bill for an Act to provide for the Enforcement and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, Genocide and Related Offences, and to Give Effect to Certain Provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in Nigeria, 2012,’ a copy of which was exclusively obtained by SUNDAY PUNCH.
The Bill was gazetted on July 17, 2012.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, had, in an address at the opening session of the Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association on Monday, disclosed that the bill had been forwarded to the National Assembly.
The bill seeks to provide measures under Nigerian law for the punishment violators of international law and to consumate Nigeria’s cooperation with the ICC in the performance of its functions.
The international crimes and offences, as outlined in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the bill, include crimes such as genocide, and “attacks directed against any civilian population” by military forces, such as the Joint Task Force.
The bill states that genocide includes offences such as killing members of a group, causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of a group, deliberately inflicting on a group, conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in part or in whole or imposing measures to prevent births within a group.
Similar war crimes listed by the bill include intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations or individuals not taking direct part in hostilities; intentionally directing attacks against civilian and non-military objects; intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that the attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage civilian objects or cause widespread long term and severe damage to the natural environment.
Section 19 of the bill, which spelts out the ‘Responsibility of commanders and other superiors’, states that military commanders in the country are liable for any of the offences that fall under the International Crimes, when such an offence is committed by forces under their effective control.
Section 19 of the Bill states thus, “(1) A military commander or a person effectively acting as a military commander is responsible for an offence under section 4,5 or 6 of this Act committed by forces under his effective command, control or under his effective authority and control, as a result of his failure to exercise control properly over the forces.
Section five of the bill also deals with crimes against humanity. Sub section three reads, “Violations of fundamental rules of international law are (f) torture (g) rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation or other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity.”
Military campaigns launched in the country to quell civil disturbances have always been characterised by civilian casualties.
Currently, the Joint Task Force engaged in a military operation against the Boko Haram sect in parts of the North, and also trying to restore order in Jos, Plateau State, has been embroiled in controversies over civilian casualties.
Recently, the Borno Elders Forum claimed that the activities of the JTF in Borno and Yobe states had caused the death of hundreds of civilians in Maiduguri and Damaturu.
The Forum had said, “The killings run into hundreds, and it seems the people are facing genocide,” they said in the statement, entitled: ‘A Passionate Appeal for Restraint,’ which was signed by a former minister, Shettima Ali Monguno.
But the JTF in Borno State denied the allegations, saying there was no genocide in its activities.
Also, controversy trailed recent reports that the JTF killed 20 members of the Boko Haram sect in Maiduguri. While the force said those slain were members of Boko Haram, the sect disagreed.
Similarly, activities of the military in Jos have been mired in controversy, with several reports suggesting civilian casualties from the activities of the JTF.
Massive civilian casualties and destruction of property were rampant during military campaigns to quell insurgencies in Zaki Biam in Benue State and Odi in Bayelsa State, during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo.
Beside civilian deaths, there were also reports of large scale rape of women in Odi.
Military campaign against militants in the Niger Delta reportedly violated international law, particularly in Ayokoroma, Okerenkoko and Gbaramatu Kingdom in Delta State, badly damaged during the manhunt for militant leaders, John Togo and Tompolo.
The bill mandates the AGF to, upon request by the ICC for the arrest and surrender of a military commander, or any other person responsible for a said offence, to effect his arrest and surrender him for prosecution.
The bill also prescribes penalties for international crimes violated in the country.
The penalty for the international crimes “where the offence involves the wilful killing of a person,” is the same as the penalty for murder under the Penal Code or Criminal Code, and (Cap P16LFN and CAP C38 LFN, 2004).”
On the other hand, where the offence does not involve wilful killing, the bill stipulates a penalty of “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 30 years or a term of life imprisonment when justified by the extreme gravity of the offence and the individual circumstances of the convicted person.”
Section 69 of the bill provides that prisoners of the international criminal court, including foreign nationals, could serve their sentences in Nigerian prisons.
However, before acceding to the ICC’s request, the AGF shall consult with relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government, including the National Security Adviser.
“The criminal court prisoner shall be detained in accordance with the laws of Nigeria as if he had been sentenced to imprisonment under the laws of Nigeria.”
However, the Bill also states that the laws of Nigeria relating to parole, remission, reduction, or variation of sentence and pardon do not apply to a sentence imposed by the Criminal Court.
The Bill, when passed into law, will also provide for the sitting of the ICC in the country for the purposes of taking evidence, conducting proceedings, giving a judgment, or reviewing sentences imposed by it.
It would be recalled that the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, had in July visited Nigeria, during which she met President Goodluck Jonathan and other relevant government officials, including the AGF.
During the visit, she disclosed that the ICC had put Nigeria under preliminary examination due to the Boko Haram insurgency in the North.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (often referred to as the International Criminal Court Statute or the Rome Statute) is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.
It was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome on July 17, 1998, and became operational on July 1, 2002.
As at February 1, 2012, 121 states had become party to the statute, including Nigeria.