UNODC and Partners Hold a Workshop to Prosecute Conflict-Related Crimes Against Children in Nigeria

Abuja, February 2023 – From 30 January to 3 February 2023, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with the Wayamo Foundation and the United Nations (UN) Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict (ToE), and with the participation of UNODC STRIVE Juvenile, held its fourth capacity-building workshop for Nigerian investigators and prosecutors on the Investigation and Prosecution of International Crimes with a special focus on conflict-related sexual violence and crimes against children.

This training was organized within the framework of a six-month project to Strengthen Nigerian Capacity for the Investigation and Prosecution of International Crimes with a Special Focus on Conflict-related Sexual Violence” funded by the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Multi-Partner-Trust Fund (CSRV MPTF). This project leverages long-standing partnerships that UNODC, the UN Team of Experts, and Wayamo have each established with Nigerian law enforcement actors, to help build the capacity of the Nigerian criminal justice system to hold perpetrators of serious crimes committed in the context of the conflict in North-East Nigeria accountable, and to deliver justice to the victims of these crimes, especially victims of conflict-related sexual violence. Ms. Sophia Candeias from the UN Team of Experts explained: “the joint engagement of TOE, UNODC and Wayamo reflects the need to work together on the judicial response to sexual violence committed in the context of terrorism, taking into account the different legal frameworks of human rights, international humanitarian law and terrorism”.

Training workshop participants included prosecutors from the Federal Ministry of Justice’s Complex Case Group (CCG), the Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Prosecution Hub, as well as investigators from the multi-agency Joint Investigation Centre (JIC) based in Maiduguri.

Through a series of training sessions, lectures, and interactive plenary discussions, experts from UNODC, Wayamo, the UN Team of Experts, the International Criminal Court, and STRIVE Juvenile shared their knowledge and experience in the investigation of conflict-related sexual violence and crimes against children, including the recruitment of child soldiers by terrorist groups. Participants developed important skills to effectively prepare and conduct investigations for charging the perpetrators of crimes committed against children, including the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as how to deal sensitively with child witnesses and other victims of such crimes. As Lieutenant Colonel Aliyu Ahmed, Commander of the JIC, explained, the training “is very apt as it provides an avenue to get to interact with experts in handling victims of conflict. Moreover, the workshop does not only impact knowledge, but it enhances synergy both locally and internationally as it helps in harmonising patterns of investigation.”

Ms. Bettina Ambach, the Director of the Wayamo Foundation further shared some reasons why the trainings organized under this partnership are so unique: "What made these workshops so special was the fact that the UN Team of Experts, UNODC and Wayamo contributed with their own respective expertise to the success of the training sessions - all pursuing the same goal to ensure  accountability for international crimes in a counter-terrorism context."

Specially developed case scenarios and group exercises, focused on the planning of investigations into conflict-related sexual violence and crimes against children, allowed investigators and prosecutors to use the skills and knowledge acquired during the training and enhance their practical understanding of the various aspects of the prosecution and investigation of these crimes. In addition, these exercises further encouraged the exchange of constructive ideas and suggestions for addressing some of the key challenges in the investigation and prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence and crimes against children in the Nigerian context.

The recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups remains a major concern in Nigeria. Over the past few years, an increase in the number of grave violations, particularly abductions and sexual violence, as well as the killing, and recruitment and use of children as child soldiers has been reported. Terrorist attacks on schools continue to pose a big issue in Nigeria. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, recently observed that such attacks not only “deprive children of education and violate the rights of the child but also increase the risk for children to be exposed to other grave violations such as recruitment and use, killing and maiming, abduction and sexual violence.”

However, while both conflict-related sexual violence, and crimes against children, have historically been under-reported and under-prosecuted in Nigeria, the country must be commended for taking some important steps to ensure that the individuals responsible for these crimes are held to account. The Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a local militia formed by the Borno State authorities to support Nigerian security forces in the fight against Boko Haram and to protect local communities from attacks, has, for example,  adopted  an Action Plan to End and Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Children and has established its own Child Protection Unit within the Task Force.