The Chibok Girls: International Crimes Against Women in Nigeria and the Special Victims Trust Fund
1. Introduction and background to the Chibok Girls Abduction in Nigeria
The shock, disbelief and uproar that greeted the abduction of over 250 girls from Government Girls Secondary School Chibok in April 2014 by Boko Haram insurgents is yet to abate as at the time of writing. In fact it has turned into an international movement seeking for the return of the abducted girls. The Nigerian government has been cagey her response to the tragedy. Two months after, the girls have not been rescued and frustration and despondency is beginning to appear. Even as no headway has been made, it is also a known fact that the government does not have a well laid out response plan when the girls are eventually released. The interesting development is that the Rome Statute Bill currently before the National Assembly makes a provision for a Special Victims Trust Fund for victims of international crimes and their families. This paper looks at the provisions of the bill and makes recommendations on how the bill when passed into law can assist the Chibok girls and other victims of international crimes when they are eventually released. The paper is divided into four sections. The second section gives an overview of the definition of victims of international crimes. Section three looks at the provisions of the draft bill in relation to the establishment of the Special Victims Trust Fund for victims of international crimes in Nigeria. The fourth section is the conclusion.
2. Definition of victims of International Crimes in Nigeria
This paper adopts the definition a victim as contained in the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Victims. The Basic Principles and Guidelines define victims of crimes as: “persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, or serious violations of international humanitarian law. Where appropriate, and in accordance with domestic law, the term ‘victim’ also includes the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization. The provisions of the Basic Principles and Guidelines are regarded as an international bill of rights for victims of international crimes. The provisions of the Basic Principles and Guidelines are regarded as an international bill of rights for victims of international crimes.In addition, it should also be noted that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has produced a handbook on justice for victims detailing the use and application of the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. The UN Victims’ Handbook argues that an effective way of addressing the needs of crime victims is to establish programmes that provide social, psychological, emotional and financial support, and effectively help victims within the criminal justice and social institutions. Furthermore, the UN, has recognised the need for effective mechanisms to protect victims of international crimes by stating that “remedies for gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law include the victims’ right to equal and effective access to justice; adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered; and access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanisms”. The UN General Assembly in 1985 adopted the Declaration of the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. The UN Principles define victims as persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power.In the resolution adopting the Principles, the UN called on member states to “implement social, health, including mental health, educational, economic and specific crime prevention policies to reduce victimization and encourage assistance to victims in distress.” The Declaration requires states to adopt legal and practical measures for effective integration of victims in the criminal justice system by granting them access to justice and fair treatment, restitution, compensation and assistanceto the extent possible.
The Rome Statute of the ICC does not have specific definition for victims. However, the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE) define victims as "natural persons who have suffered harm as a result of the commission of any crime within the jurisdiction of the ICC". The RPE further provides that "victims may include organizations or institutions that have sustained direct harm to any of their property, which is dedicated to religion, education, art or science or charitable purposes and to their historic monuments, hospitals and other places and objects for humanitarian purposes". It is important to note that while the trial chamber of the ICC in the case of the Prosecutor vs. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo had interpreted Rule 85 generously to include any person who had “suffered harm as a result of the commission of a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court,” the Appeals Chamber reversed the ruling restricting the interpretation of victims who are entitled to participate at the court’s proceedings to those whose harm and personal interest in the case can be linked to the charges before the Court.National jurisdictions are currently adopting domestic legislations to implement the Rome Statute of the ICC. It is imperative to suggest appropriate guidelines or models on victims’ rights at the domestic level that will complement the activities of the ICC. This becomes very instructive for Nigeria as the National Assembly embarks on the important task.
3. The Special Victims Trust Fund in the Rome Statute Bill
The Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, Genocide and Related Offences Bill, 2012 makes provision for the establishment of a Special Victims Trust Fund (SVTF). The draft bill states that the SVTF is for the benefitof victims of crimes and the families of the victims. The Bill provides that a person convicted of an offence under the draft bill by a High Court in Nigeria, for any offence under the draft bill may forfeit to the SVTF any asset or property confiscated or derived from any proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of the offence disclosed or not disclosed in the Assets Declaration Form specified in the Schedule to the draft bill. In addition, the draft bill provides that the High Court in imposing a sentence on any person, shall order, in addition to any other sentence imposed pursuant to the draft bill that the person forfeit to the properties described in the draft bill. Furthermore, the High Court may order money and other property collected through fines or forfeiture to be transferred, by order of the High Court, to the SVTF.
The Draft Bill also provides that the Nigerian Attorney-General shall (a) ensure that the forfeited assets or properties under this Act are effectively transferred and vested in the Special Victims Trust Fund and (b) issue guidelines and criteria for the management of the SVTF. This means that it is the responsibility of the Attorney-General to set-up the SVTF. However, the draft bill is not clear whether it is the responsibility of the Attorney-General to nominate and appoint members of the SVTF. The draft bill states that a victim of crime has the right to institute civil action against appropriate parties, and is entitled to compensation, restitution and recovery for economic, physical and psychological damages which shall be met from the Special Victims Trust Fund. However, the draft bill is not clear whether the institution of the civil action is requirement for assessing fund whether the institution of a civil action against an accused person is an additional benefit for the victim or families of victims of international crimes in Nigeria.
The provision of the draft bill as it relates to victims of crimes is subject to several criticisms. For instance, the ICC Draft Bill does not define a victim and the elements of victimhood in Nigeria. Though the acts recognises families of victims of international crimes, the inability to define who is a victim in Nigeria an anomaly that has to be corrected. In addition, the draft bill does not provide for direct intervention of government for victims of international crimes. The draft bill provides that victims of international crimes will have to apply a civil action for restitution, compensation and rehabilitation. As a victim of international crime, the possibility of having the time and resources to apply for a civil procedure for compensation is a herculean task and has to be amended.
The abduction of the Chibok girls is a wake-up call for the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. A lot of gender based crimes are committed against women in very proportions in Nigeria. However, the incidence of abducting innocent school has triggered a local and international outcry that will change the way things are handled in Nigeria. It is the responsibility of the Nigerian government to protect the lives and properties of her citizens. In addition, government has the sole responsibility to ensure that those who perpetrate these heinous crimes are held accountable. However, it has been noted in the paper the Special Victims Trust Fund is inadequate to meet the challenges of terrorism and international crimes committed against women in Nigeria today. Passing the Rome Statute Bill is big step. However, the step should begin from a right direction which will involve the promotion and protection of the rights of victims of international crimes in Nigeria.