Burundi on Friday rejected plans by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to allow prosecutors to investigate war crimes in the country, while rights groups and opposition politicians welcomed the move.
Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana said Burundi would not cooperate with the Netherlands-based court, from which it formally withdrew on October 26. The ICC still claims jurisdiction over crimes committed while Burundi was a member.
“The government of Burundi heard a rumour through international media reports that ICC has given authorisation to its prosecutor to start an investigation on Burundi,” she told a news conference.
“The government rejects that decision and reiterates its firm determination that it will not cooperate with ICC or any other fraudulent manipulation intending to ... extend mandate of the ICC on the Burundi territory.”
On Thursday, the court said it had approved a prosecution request to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by Burundi’s government and allied groups against political foes from April 2015 to October 2017.
Burundi was plunged into violence in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he would seek a third term in office.
The opposition said the move was unconstitutional and violated a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005. He won the vote in a July 2015 election boycotted by most opposition parties.
At least 450 people have been killed in politically-related violence since then, rights groups say.
'Victory for justice'
The ICC said on Friday said the crimes alleged to have occurred between April 2015 and October 2017 include murder, imprisonment, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and persecution.
UN rights investigators and independent activists have accused government forces of widespread violations and of running a campaign of terror.
Around 400,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries amid the unrest, which has crippled Burundi’s economy.
Charles Nditije, exiled head of Burundi’s opposition platform CNARED, welcomed the ICC’s announcement.
“The good news is that top government officials responsible for crimes against humanity and other atrocities will be prosecuted,” he told Reuters.
“It is a victory for justice in Burundi, it is a victory for those who want the return of peace and rule of law to Burundi.”
Armel Niyongere, a lawyer representing families of victims of the violence, said he would help the investigation.
“The ICC decision is an important victory for the victims of the Burundi regime’s repression. On our side, we will continue to work more closely with the office of ICC prosecutor, until justice is done,” he said.