Burundi has finally pulled out of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a year after President Pierre Nkurunziza signed the legislation calling for the country to withdraw its membership.
Under the ICC’s Rome Statute, withdrawal does not come into effect until one year after the state has formally announced its intentions to the United Nations secretary general.
“Africans have now realised that the ICC was set up to destabilise the institutions of weak nations, and that it gave the impression that it was a court for Africans only,” said Burundi’s Minister for Human Rights Martin Nivyabandi.
“Opponents of President Nkurunziza wanted to use the 2015 political crisis as a tool to destabilise the government and its institutions.”
In April 2015, President Nkurunziza announced he was running for a third term, sparking violent protests by opposition supporters who said the move was in violation of the country’s Constitution, a view also held by the international community.
Rights activists accused security forces of using excessive force in quelling the violence, leading to the deaths, detention and torture of civilians. The political crisis is yet to be resolved.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights called on the ICC to investigate possible crimes against humanity committed in the country.
According to Human Rights Watch, crimes against humanity were committed but Burundi failed to hold people responsible to account, and that the withdrawal is an attempt to deny victims justice.
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But Mr Nivyabandi said that it was the obligation of the government to deal with problems related to impunity, and that “Burundi will never tolerate impunity in the country.”
A university professor in Burundi who requested anonymity said that it was clear that crimes against humanity were committed and people died and that someone must be held responsible.
“The government is saying that these were ordinary crimes but that was not the case. So there are people who must pay for those atrocities,” he said.
Amnesty International said the ICC should continue its preliminary investigations notwithstanding the withdrawal.
“Even if President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government will not cooperate, the ICC has ways and means to investigate and prosecute crimes committed,” said Amnesty International’s head of international justice Matt Cannock.
He said that the perpetrators, including members of the security forces cannot easily run away from their responsibility for crimes committed under international law.
“Withdrawal from the Rome Statute does not in any way absolve Burundi of its obligations to end ongoing widespread human- rights violations, or to address its abject failure to deliver justice for victims at the national level,” said Mr Cannock.
The Burundi government said that it ratified the convention establishing ICC [in 2004] without analysing it deeply, and that this happened during the transition from a bloody civil war that lasted more than a decade and authorities did not realise it was a trap.
But according to opposition leader and deputy speaker of Parliament Agathon Rwasa as long as there is no justice Burundians will need other courts beyond the local ones.
“The move to withdraw from the ICC is simply a political decision by the ruling party and not the decision of Burundians,” said Mr Rwasa.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said last month in a report that it believed crimes against humanity have been and continue to be committed in Burundi since April 2015.
The report mentions extra judicial executions, arbitrary arrests and sexual violence among the crimes committed by the perpetrators who include high-level officials.
It names the National Intelligence Service, National police and members of the ruling party youth wing Imbonerakure among the perpetrators.
However, the Burundi government rejected the report saying that it was politically motivated, and that it was biased.
Bujumbura said that the country’s judicial institution was able to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Mr Nivyabandi blamed the United Nations Commission of Inquiry for not considering the report by the Burundi government, and for claiming that it was based on false and biased information.