What does it mean for Buhari to be charged at the ICC?

Since the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, charges have been brought against three Nigerian presidents (Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and very recently, Muhammadu Buhari).

On Friday, the 29th of January, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) will file a complaint at the ICC against President Muhammadu Buhari over Nnamdi Kanu’s imprisonment. Kanu, who was based in the United Kingdom is the leader of the Indigenous people of Biafra, a group that is agitating for the secession of south-eastern states from Nigeria. He was arrested by the Nigerian government on the 18th of October, 2015 and although he has been granted bail, he is still being held in prison.

Nnamdi Kanu
Nnamdi Kanu

According to Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers, a law firm based in Amsterdam, under both Nigerian and international law, Kanu and other pro Biafra supporters have the right to protest.  In a statement by the law firm, it clarified that Buhari may be charged on human rights abuse. “To date, there is clear and consistent evidence that crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the ICC—in particular: murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture, enforced disappearance, other inhumane acts, and persecution—have been committed in the context of politically- and ethnically-motivated state violence against, primarily, IPOB members and the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria,” the law firm said.

If Nnamdi Kanu can pull the attention of the international audience, perhaps it is time Buhari started paying attention to the protests and its numerous agitations?

How does the ICC operate?

The ICC is a permanent international court established to investigate, prosecute and try individuals accused of committing the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

A case is usually brought by state or referred by the UN Security Council to a prosecutor, however, the prosecutions have to be approved by a judge before launching investigations.

The ICC only prosecutes individuals and it does not take into account the official position that may be held by these individuals.

What does this mean for Buhari?

If Buhari is found guilty of the charges brought against him at the ICC, he will not be exempt from facing the consequences if his actions. Lucas Koyejo, a Human Rights law practitioner noted that the president is not immune to ICC prosecution. He said, “If the President is charged with crimes against humanity, then his position does not make him insusceptible to a trial by the ICC.”

According to the rules of the court, “no one is exempt from prosecution because of his or her current functions or because of the position he or she held at the time the crimes concerned were committed. Acting as a Head of State or Government, minister or parliamentarian does not exempt anyone from criminal responsibility before the ICC. In some circumstances, a person in a position of authority may even be held responsible for crimes committed by those acting under his or her command or orders. Likewise, amnesty cannot be used as a defense before the ICC. As such, it cannot bar the Court from exercising its jurisdiction.”

Other presidents that have been indicted by the ICC

Laurent Gbagbo

Laurent Gbagb
Laurent Gbagbo

Gbagbo was the President of Cote d’ivoire from 2000 till 2011. Charged on four counts of crimes against humanity, he is case in trial and he’s being held at the ICC detention centre.

Omar Al-Bashir

Omar Al-Bashir
Omar Al-Bashir

Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state ever indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and genocide. However, since the warrant for his arrest has been issued, Al Bashir has refused to honour it. He has been declared a fugitive by the ICC.

Muammar Ghaddafi

Muammar Ghadaffi
Muammar Ghadaffi

The former Libyan President who ruled from 1969 till 2011. Before he was killed in October, he was indicted by the ICC in June 2011 on crimes against humanity based on the civil war in the country at the time.

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