The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor has condemned the escalation of “appalling levels of violence” in North-eastern Nigeria, warning that she would prosecute members of any party responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said her office is continuing a preliminary examination of allegations that Boko Haram extremists are killing large numbers of civilians, using girls and boys to participate in the conflict and forcing massive number of people from their homes, reported the Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday.
She also warned the federal government of its obligation to prosecute crimes that “deeply shock the conscience of humanity”.
“No one should doubt my resolve, if need be, to prosecute those individuals most responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity,” Bensouda said in a statement from the court’s headquarters in The Hague.
Both Boko Haram and the Nigerian military are accused of summary executions of hundreds of civilians in the six-year uprising that killed more than 10,000 people last year.
Boko Haram has increased the ferocity, deadliness and tempo of its attacks in recent weeks, with international outrage over reports that as many as 2,000 civilians may have been systematically slaughtered in attacks early this month in the town and military base at Baga, on the border with Cameroun.
Boko Haram also has increased attacks on neighbouring Cameroun, raising fears that the conflict is spreading.
Boko Haram has captured a large swathe of North-east Nigeria and declared it is recreating an ancient Islamic caliphate that included parts of Cameroun, Chad and Niger.
Niger’s Foreign Minister, Bazoum Mohamed, told a meeting yesterday of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to discuss a collective response to Boko Haram and that Nigeria’s home-grown militants are no longer a Nigerian problem but threaten the security of the region.
Chad sent troops Sunday to fight Boko Haram in northern Cameroun, and Cameroun said yesterday that more than 10,000 of its citizens had fled border regions following the cross-border attacks.
The International Organisation of Migration also said yesterday that more than one million people are displaced in North-east Nigeria. More than 100,000 have fled to Niger, threatening a regional humanitarian crisis.
Similarly, hundreds of people from four villages near the devastated Nigerian town of Baga have been forced to flee after a warning from Boko Haram militants, witnesses and community leaders said on Tuesday.
News of the exodus from Kekenu, Budur, Yoyo and Mile 90 villages came as Niger hosted a meeting on how to fight the rebels, as concern mounted at the threat to regional security.
Abubakar Gamandi, head of the Borno State fishermen’s union, said residents from the affected villages told him Boko Haram fighters had visited “and asked people to leave — or else”.
One woman who fled Baga to the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, on Monday confirmed that she joined the crowds fleeing the four villages.
“When we came to Mile 90, we found it almost empty with some remaining residents staying behind to pick up personal belongings,” said Ma’agana Butari.
“We also found Budur, Kekenu and Yoyo deserted and we caught up with some of the residents moving towards Monguno,” the 32-year-old mother of five said by telephone from Maiduguri.
The villages lie some 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Baga and although there was no confirmation that Boko Haram had moved in, it will likely raise fears that the group plans to push south.