Is it Time for ICC to Open Nigeria Investigation?

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Jan 12, 2015  – Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan is again under scrutiny for his handling of the Boko Haram insurgency after the group’s attack in Baga last week which Amnesty International says killed up to 2,000 people but which the Nigerian government estimates killed some 150.

The Baga assault was followed by an attack in Kano this weekend that killed 23 and reportedly involved strapping a bomb to a 10-year-old girl.

The latest atrocities will lead to more calls for the ICC to open an investigation into the situation in Nigeria, citing the Nigerian government’s apparent unwillingness or inability to carry out genuine investigations or prosecutions into Boko Haram. The Islamist group has killed an estimated 9,000 civilians in the past five years, with attacks becoming more frequent and deadly, in addition to attacks on schools and the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reported in December that her office’s preliminary examination of the situation in Nigeria is currently at Phase 3, the stage where the prosecutor is determining whether the Nigerian government’s proceedings “are substantially the same as those that would likely arise from an investigation” by her office and whether “those most responsible for the most serious crimes are being brought to justice.”

“Information gaps remain with respect to national proceedings, in particular regarding the high discrepancy between the reported number of arrests of persons associated with Boko Haram and information on relevant legal proceedings,” Bensouda’s December report said. “The Office will request further information on and continue to analyze the relevance and genuineness of national proceedings by the competent national authorities.”

Critics of Jonathan say he is deliberately turning a blind-eye to Boko Haram’s assaults in the northern part of the country ahead of the February 1 presidential election. The claim is that by disenfranchising millions of voters in the pre-dominantly Muslim northern part of the country, he is assuring himself of victory over his presidential rival General Muhammadu Buhari.

Nigeria ratified the Rome Statute in Sept. 2001. The Court has determined that the situation in the north constitutes a non-international armed conflict and that there is a reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram has committed crimes against humanity including murder and persecution and that the attacks on educational institutions and the kidnapping of schoolgirls could constitute crimes under the Court’s jurisdiction.

There are credible fears that next month’s election could lead to further violence. In addition, the activities of Boko Haram are now spilling over into neighboring countries, including Chad, where some 7,300 Nigerians have fled in recent days. Chad has troops serving with a Multinational Task Force (MNJTF), consisting of soldiers from Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, in addition to Chad. The MJNTF is supposed to provide a bulwark against Boko Haram but that has not materialised and soldiers abandoned their base in Baja during last week’s deadly assault.

ICC Prosecutor Bensouda is not likely to rush her decision but much will depend on the outcome of the Feb. 14 election in Africa’s most populous nation. Jonathan is expected to win handily but it is his commitment to investigating and prosecuting Boko Haram leaders following his expected re-election that will be closely monitored by the ICC prosecutor ahead of her next report.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ten Countries Infected by Polio Virus as WHO Declare Emergency

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May 5, 2014 –  Cameroon, Pakistan and Syria pose the greatest risk for exporting the polio virus that was on the verge of eradication a couple of years ago.

The vaccine-preventable disease has already spread across the borders of these three countries with neighboring Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan and Iraq also infected.

Declaring the situation a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization on Monday said “the consequences of further international spread are particularly acute today given the large number of polio-free but conflict-torn and fragile States” where vaccination programs have been interrupted because of fighting.

Ethiopia, Israel, Somalia as well as Nigeria have also recorded cases of polio in the past year whereas prior to 2013 only three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – were considered endemic countries. The number of cases had decreased from some 350,000 in 1988 to 223 in 2012 as it seemed that the virus would join smallpox and rinderpest as the only diseases ever eradicated.

There were 417 polio cases last year, according to the Global Eradication Initiative.

Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Lebanon are at high risk of becoming infected countries due to their proximity to currently infected countries and the risk of conflict interrupting vaccination campaigns there.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Child Mortality Highest in Sierra Leone

Poliodrops
Jan. 30, 2014 – More children are living beyond school age than ever before but child mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain high with almost 10 percent of children dying before their fifth birthday.

The under-5 mortality rate globally has decreased from 75 deaths for every 1,000 children born in 2000 to 48 deaths for every 1,000 children born in 2012, according to UNICEF’s 2014 State of the World’s Children in Numbers report. This progress is still not enough to meet MDG4 which calls for a two-thirds reduction by 2015.

Sierra Leone has the world’s highest under-5 mortality rate with 198 deaths of children under-5 for every 1,000 children born. Angola, Chad, Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo all have rates of about 150 deaths for every 1,000 children while sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has a rate of 98/1000.

India (56/1000) and Nigeria (124/1000) account for more than one-third of all under-5 child deaths globally.

The under-5 mortality rate is considered a principal indicator of a country’s development as it is the result of a number of factors including the health of mothers, the level of immunization, availability of maternal and child health services, income and food availability, availability of clean water and safe sanitation and the overall safety of the child’s environment.

The countries with the highest rate of under-5 child mortality are:

1. Sierra Leone 182 (deaths before the age of five for every 1,000 children born)
2. Angola 164
3. Chad 150
4. Somalia 147
5. Democratic Republic of the Congo 146
6. Central African Republic 129
7. Guinea-Bissau 129
8. Mali 128
9. Nigeria 124
10. Niger 114

Other countries with high child mortality include Afghanistan (99/1000), Pakistan (86/1000) , Haiti  (76/1000) and Bangladesh (41/1000).

The 2014 State of the World’s Children in Numbers report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: child in Bangladesh receiving polio vaccine/wikimedia

First Timers Chad, Georgia, Lithuania and Saudi Arabia Among Those Vying for UNSC Seats in 2014-15

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The new Security Council members will deliberate in the newly renovated council chamber which re-opened this month. (photo: courtesy of Norway/UN)

April 10, 2013 – Six countries have declared their candidacy for the five vacancies up for grabs in October’s election for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.

So far, Chad, Chile, Georgia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are running for election to the Council for 2014-15, though it’s looking more like an election process than race at this stage. 

Among the six, Georgia and Lithuania are the only two running in a competitive race. One of them will replace Azerbaijan who currently occupy the Eastern Europe seat, but whose term ends Dec. 31, 2013. Neither Tbilisi nor Vilnius has served on the Council, and Lithuania, if successful, would be the first Baltic country elected to the 15-nation body.

Chile, whose likely next president, Michele Bachelet, recently stepped down as head of U.N. Women, last served on the Council in 2003-04 and was one of the the so-called ‘Middle Six’ delegations whose vote was fought over by those for and against the invasion of Iraq. 

The Latin America group at the UN typically presents a “clean slate” for candidates meaning each candidate runs unopposed so Santiago is virtually guaranteed to replace Guatemala.

Nigeria and Chad are running for the two African seats to replace Morocco and Togo. Nigeria has served four times on the Council, most recently in 2010-11 while Chad has never. Unless other candidates are announced in the interim both are assured of a two-year term.

Saudi Arabia, one of the 51 founding members of the U.N. in 1945, has also never served on the Council. It looks set to replace Pakistan for the Asia-Pacific group Arab swing seat – the African and Asian groups take turns every two years to nominate an Arab country: Morocco was elected from the African group for 2011-13 so it is now Asia’s turn to nominate an Arab state.

– Denis Fitzgerald