Religious liberty advocates will remember December 11, 2020 as an unusual day in the history of the International Criminal Court (ICC). On that date there was announcement from the ICC that demonstrated that the institution intends to take very seriously assaults on religious liberty.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that the court had wrapped up preliminary investigations in two countries, Nigeria and Ukraine. Both countries have severe human rights abuses that are connected to religious freedom. Nigerians and Ukrainians have long clamored for justice in the wake of violence and repression that have often made international headlines. Both countries are geopolitical flashpoints as well.
There was a decade-long investigation into Nigeria. The investigation covered both the actions of the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State and the actions of the Nigerian Security Forces. This investigation proved that further action by the ICC was warranted.
Nigeria’s Security Forces reacted negatively to the news from the ICC. And religious freedom activists, particularly activists for Nigerian Christians, are disappointed the investigations are limited to Boko Haram. Nigeria also needs a criminal investigation of the atrocities committed by the Fulani, but so far, there has been no interest in such an investigation.
Ukraine’s investigation is different from that taking place in Nigeria. In 2014 the Ukrainian government itself lodged the initial request for the ICC to investigate. The investigation itself raised three “broad clusters of victimization”. They were in the areas of crimes committed during hostilities, crimes committed during detention and what is taking place in Crimea.
Many activities being investigated in Ukraine have links to State actors. In some cases, State actors have backed the activities, and in some cases they have actively participated. Efforts by Russia to annex Crimea are well known. But another disturbing situation under investigation is Russia’s efforts to create enclaves where the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church would be the primary source of faith. Due to this religious hegemony, other faiths have had issues trying to establish seed churches.
The actions in Ukraine put to rest the notion that the ICC focuses only on the actions of African States. Several African nations’ leaders have accused the ICC of prejudice and of only finding criminals in Africa. This is ironic since it was Africans who initially argued for the court to be established. But now Ukraine joins the ranks of those under investigation for criminal atrocities because the benchmarks were met and the process is moving forward to the next phase.
The next step in ICC investigations will be indicting the bad actors in both countries. At that point there will probably be a new round of hyperventilating regarding who will be indicted and who will be able to escape prosecution.
Better late than never may be a true saying, but those who believe in justice are still concerned that so much time has elapsed since these investigations began. As mentioned, the Nigeria investigation took a decade to complete. The investigation for Ukraine was shorter, but it still took six years.
Another popular saying is Justice delayed is justice denied. The victimized populations of both Nigeria and Ukraine have been denied justice for far too long. There should be no more delay to achieving justice in both of these countries.