Bujumbura / AFP
Burundi’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is carrying out a preliminary probe into atrocities committed during an 18-month political crisis.
“The ICC is a tool being used to try and change power” in Burundi, charged Aloys Ntakirutimana, a lawmaker with the ruling CNDD-FDD, during a three hour debate in the National Assembly.
While a few lawmakers argued against the draft law, it was eventually passed with 94 votes in favour, two against and 14 abstentions. It will next go to the Senate — also dominated by the ruling party — before being approved by President Pierre Nkurunziza. The central African nation has been mired in crisis since April 2015 when Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office, which he went on to win.
A vicious government crackdown on protests and widespread violence followed, which some rights organisations estimate has left more than 1,000 people dead.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in April launched a preliminary investigation into reports of “killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as cases of enforced disappearances.”
The initial probe is aimed at determining whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a full-blown investigation by ICC prosecutors which could result in drawing up charges against those believed to be responsible for the violence.
Bensouda’s decision was followed by a damning report by UN rights experts released in September, detailing gross human rights abuses such as torture and sexual violence.
“Given the country’s history, the danger of the crime of genocide also looms large,” warned the recent UN report.
Burundi has a long history of violence between its Hutu and Tutsi communities, which led to a 12-year civil war that ended in 2006.
‘A plot to harm Burundi’
The report prompted the UN Human Rights Council to send a Commission of Inquiry to Burundi, a move taken only in rare situations of significant worry.
“It is perfectly clear that this is a plot to do harm to Burundi,” Gaston Sindimwo, Burundi’s vice president, said last week, referring to the
Bujumbura responded by declaring the three authors of the report persona non grata and scrapping all co-operation with the UN’s human rights office over what it termed a “dishonest and controversial” report.
Burundi’s move to leave the Netherlands-based court also comes amid rising resentment in Africa against the ICC, whose leaders accuse it of unfairly targeting Africans for prosecution.
Kenya — whose president and deputy president were targeted with failed ICC prosecutions — is pushing for all African nations to snub the court.
Set up in 2002 as the last resort to try war criminals and perpetrators of genocide never tried at home, the ICC has opened probes involving eight nations, all of them African: Kenya, Ivory Coast, Libya, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda and Mali.
According to the Rome Statute which established the court, any country which wants to leave has to inform the UN secretary general in writing.
The country’s departure becomes effective one year after the receipt of a written formal notice of withdrawal.