Burundi could pull out of Rome Statute after launch of probe

Saturday June 18 2016

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently warned that those in Burundi alleged to be committing crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC could be held individually accountable. PHOTO | FILE

Burundi has threatened to reconsider its membership to the Rome Statute after the International Criminal Court launched preliminary investigations into post-election killings in the country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Nyamitwe said ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had not taken into account the principle of complementarity, where national courts are given the first priority to investigate the killings that have taken place in Burundi since April last year.

Mr Nyamitwe said Burundi is yet to decide on its membership of the ICC but “should the ICC not respect what the African Union has been asking for, then we have no choice but to follow what others in the continent have come up with as an alternative.”

READ: ICC to probe deadly violence in Burundi

Members of the African Union have backed a Kenyan proposal to push for withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, saying it unfairly targets the continent.

The principle of complementarity states that national courts are empowered to investigate and punish perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide and that the ICC can only investigate if the national courts are not able to, or if the UN Security Council asks for its participation.


Ms Bensouda recently warned that those alleged to be committing crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC could be held individually accountable.

Since violence erupted in April last year following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, more than 400 people have been killed and thousands have fled the country. International human-rights organisations have accused Burundi security forces of carrying out targeted killings of presumed opponents of the president’s third term.

The African Union made a resolution to reject the trials of sitting heads of state and senior government officials at the ICC and has instead proposed to expand the jurisdiction of the Arusha-based African Court of Human and People’s Rights to include international crimes.

READ: Mistrial brings into question main role of ICC in fighting impunity

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is currently wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the province of Darfur.

Because 34 out of Africa’s 54 countries have signed the Rome Treaty establishing the court, ICC supporters say they are obligated to apprehend President al-Bashir. However, he recently visited South Africa and Uganda, and neither of them arrested him.

Meanwhile, former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa — who is the facilitator of the inter-Burundi dialogue — said the talks were the only option to resolve the crisis.


The dialogue, which has been suspended more than five times since last year, was recently relaunched in Arusha where, according to Mr Nyamitwe, both the government and the opposition had equal opportunities to express their views.

However the opposition alliance, the National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Agreement and the Rule of law in Burundi  (CNARED) was left out and only some members of the alliance were individually invited to Arusha, creating division within the opposition.

READ: Mkapa in tight spot amid claims of UK, AU bias in Burundi ‘dialogue’

The Burundi government said CNARED was not legally recognised and Bujumbura would not engage with those who took part in the failed coup last year.

But CNARED spokesman Pancrace Cimpaye told The EastAfrican that after meeting the facilitator separately, they are going to push for their participation. They argued the alliance was formed to restore peace in the country and for thousands of Burundi refugees to return to their homeland.

“We are not going to make impositions, all we need is peace and we won’t push for conditions,” said Mr Cimpaye.

Despite the country gradually returning peace and stability, the National Human Rights Commission said at least 130 people have been killed this year alone. The commission said there are also allegations of torture, abductions and arbitrary arrests.

“We are encouraging the police and the judiciary to ensure no one is arrested based on their participation in last year’s protests,” said the chairman of the commission, Jean Baptist Baribonekeza.

Additional reporting by Fred Oluoch.