Nigeria was on Monday urged to ensure that trials of Boko Haram suspects meet international standards, amid concern about due process and prolonged periods of detention.
Nigeria was on Monday urged to ensure that trials of Boko Haram suspects meet international standards, amid concern about due process and prolonged periods of detention. Human Rights Watch warned that failure to do so could even exacerbate the conflict, which has left more than 27,000 dead in northeast Nigeria since 2009.
Trials of 1,669 suspects, some of whom had been held for years, began at civilian courts sitting at a remote military base in Niger state last October.
The trials were welcomed at the time but there were concerns about justice being seen to be done as proceedings took place behind closed doors with media and the public banned. What information has emerged has come from government statements, although reporters were briefly allowed to observe proceedings in February. HRW’s Anietie Ewang said: “Nigeria needs to pursue justice for those responsible for Boko Haram’s atrocities and end the prolonged detention of thousands of suspects.
“However, to achieve justice and deter extremist attacks, the Nigerian government’s overall strategy and trial procedures need to conform with constitutional safeguards and international standards.” Ewang said the group was able to monitor the third round of proceedings in July at which more than 200 defendants were tried. A total of 113 people were convicted and sentenced on charges including membership of a proscribed organisation, supporting Boko Haram and participating in acts of terrorism.
One of those found guilty was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his part in the mass kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok in 2014. According to government statements, 240 people have been convicted in connection with the insurgency while 1,054 have been acquitted or had their cases dropped for lack of evidence.
HRW catalogued concerns about the trials, from the short length of time of proceedings and ambiguity of detail in charges to lack of interpreters and access to lawyers. The group urged the government to improve trial procedures and consider “truth commissions” and other efforts at reconciliation, particularly for lesser, non-violent crimes. It also urged the international community to focus on non-military means of supporting Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram to ensure “genuine justice and accountability”.
“Trials that abuse suspects’ rights are not only unlawful, they can backfire by alienating local communities and handing a recruitment card to groups like Boko Haram,” said Ewang.