A civil society group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has sent an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to “drop the proposed policy to grant amnesty to members of the Boko Haram terrorist group in the interests of justice, as any amnesty programme for the group would be counter-productive, and constitute impunity for their members, which can only continue to undermine peace and stability in the country.”
The organisation said the government should instead “prioritise justice for the victims of Boko Haram and help them to rebuild and get on with their lives rather than pushing to remove accountability for the mass atrocities committed against millions of Nigerian women, men, children and the elderly, and allowing those responsible to escape justice.”
In the letter dated March 23 and signed by SERAP deputy director, Timothy Adewale, the organisation said: “Boko Haram should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their crimes if the authorities are to prevent a cycle of revenge leading to further violence and conflict. We believe that granting amnesty to Boko Haram would be an open violation of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and international law and would entail a virtual denial of justice for victims.”
According to the organisation, “The international community is pushing for accountability for those who commit the worst of human crimes, and longer tolerating amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity or other gross violations of human rights.”
The letter read in part: “Any amnesty for Boko Haram would take away the rights of the victims to justice, ignore the needs of the internally displaced persons, and never bring ‘closure’ to the mass atrocities committed by the group against Nigerians. The victims need to know the truth about what happened, and the alleged complicity of our armed forces and security services in the atrocities committed by the group. The offer of amnesty would prevent the government from addressing these fundamental issues.”
“Indeed, both individual victims and Nigeria would be disadvantaged by any amnesty to Boko Haram. Besides depriving the country of its opportunity to bring perpetrators to justice, it would also help to create a culture of impunity where perpetrators can anticipate immunity, and thus jeopardise the governing power of the authorities in the future.
“We contend that impunity for international crimes and systematic and widespread violations of fundamental human rights is a betrayal of solidarity with the victims of Boko Haram to whom the authorities owe a duty of justice, remembrance, and compensation.
“The pursuit of justice and accountability fulfils fundamental human values, helps achieve peace, and contributes to the prevention and deterrence of future violence. Thus, to grant amnesty to Boko Haram is to choose expedience over lasting goals and more enduring values.
“SERAP is seriously concerned about the government’s offer of amnesty to ‘repentant members of Boko Haram sect willing to surrender their arms and embrace peace.’ We note that any amnesty for Boko Haram involved in serious human rights violations would be contrary to Nigeria’s international obligations and commitments, including under the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’ Rights.
“We contend that any amnesty for Boko Haram with blood stained hands would serve no public interests in terms of the actual reduction of impunity for human rights crimes or deterrent effect. The authorities would never be able to get to the root of the causes of Boko Haram. Nigerians would not know the truth about the factors that continue to fuel the activities of Boko Haram if the authorities go ahead to grant members of the terrorist group amnesty.
“We also contend that every state, including Nigeria has clear obligations to investigate, prosecute and punish or extradite individuals accused of crimes under international, who are present in a territory under its jurisdiction. We are concerned that the proposed amnesty for Boko Haram would have the effect of restricting such important international norms.
“We look forward to engaging with your government on the steps it is taking to take forward the above proposed recommendations to ensure that justice for the victims of Boko Haram is not forsaken for amnesty and impunity for perpetrators.”