Letter to The Times: Boko Haram

14 April 2015

Dear Sir,

14th April 2015 marks the one-year anniversary of Boko Haram's abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. Most still remain in captivity.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), nearly all those abducted were Christian and were targeted because of their religious affiliation. HRW has also reported further abductions, after Chibok, noting that Boko Haram has been "emboldened" by "[t]he relative ease with which it carried out the Chibok abductions." The impunity afforded Boko Haram has fuelled the continuing, targeted abduction of Christian women and schoolgirls.

If ever there was an example of forcible transfer of children, it is the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls. As such, it is one of five acts explicitly constituting genocide under the Genocide Convention 1948 and the Rome Statute 1998. The first international convictions for genocide at the Nuremburg Military Tribunals in 1948 included acts of forcible child transfer.  Yet it appears that the law, although clear, has been overlooked for these abducted schoolgirls.

There is much credible evidence that Boko Haram is perpetrating genocide against the Christian community in northeastern Nigeria, including by forcibly transferring children, with intent to destroy that community. Boko Haram's declared leader, Abubakar Shekau, has publicly stated as much on many occasions and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights' Office has received reports that Boko Haram fighters retreating from advancing military forces in Nigeria have murdered women and girls that they had taken as "wives."

Despite the compelling evidence, we are apparently no nearer to rescuing the captive girls nor to bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. We ask that steps be taken to end the impunity for Boko Haram's abductions based on gender and religious belief. According to a recent U.N. Human Rights Report, ISIL, to whom Boko Haram has affiliated itself, is currently using similar tactics of gender-based abductions, forced marriages and conversions, in its attempts to destroy the Yezidi minority population in Iraq and Syria.

The World must continue to send a strong and united message that such crimes will not be tolerated and that international law will be implemented. We urge that justice be provided for the abducted girls of Nigeria.

Yours faithfully,

Amanda Pinto QC Chair of the International Committee, Bar Council

Jon Snow

Alistair McDonald QC Chairman of the Bar Council

Rupert D' Cruz Vice-Chair of the International Committee, Bar Council

Max Hill QC Leader of the South Eastern Circuit of the Bar

Tom Allen QC

Kirsty Brimelow QC Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee

Fergus Randolph QC

Tony Cross QC Chair of the Criminal Bar Association

Andrew Mitchell QC

Poonam Melwani QC

James Hines QC Co-Chair of the Rule of Law Panel, Bar Council