Burundi Takes Steps Towards Withdrawing From The International Criminal Court

Lillian Wetherspoon

Burundi has made moves towards withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly voted in support of this withdrawal with only two legislators against it. This move to withdraw from the ICC came after the United Nations launched an investigation into Burundi’s alleged systematic human rights abuses in the crackdown on the protest movement which started 18 months ago. Over the past 18 months, there has been significant political unrest within Burundi. More than 400 people have been killed, and, at least, 600 protesters have been arrested. Furthermore, this unrest has also created refugees who have fled the country due to increasing instability.

Since April 2015, Burundi has seen increasing violence as a result of President Pierre Nkurunziza seeking a third term, despite protests claiming that this move was unconstitutional. The international community has expressed concerns regarding the growing instability and unrest in the country. The escalating violence and allegations of crimes committed by the government has caused international bodies, such as the United Nations to become involved. Earlier this year, ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda announced she was conducting a ‘preliminary examination’ of the situation in Burundi, something that could lead to a full investigation and possible prosecutions. This investigation is looking into allegations of murder, torture, rape, and forced disappearances, among other things. Furthermore, the United Nations has also launched an investigation after a report warned of possible crimes against humanity and a risk of genocide.

Burundi’s response to these third party attempts to intervene in its affairs has been predominately negative. This proposed move to leave the ICC has come at a time where there is growing resentment toward the organization in Africa, with many African countries threatening to leave due to perceived inequalities. Some African countries have accused the ICC of targeting the continent in regards to human rights abuses. On top of this move to leave the ICC, Burundi has also rejected the proposed deployment of United Nations peacekeepers.

Based in the Netherlands, the ICC is an intergovernmental organization, which has the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes. A large portion of countries in the world are signatories to the Rome Statute, which is the treaty behind the ICC. However, if this legislation successfully passes through the senate and is enshrined in law by Nkurunziza, Burundi will be the first country to withdraw from the ICC. This action will have significant implications. If Burundi decides to withdraw from the ICC, it will become harder to prosecute Burundi for alleged international crimes, something that Burundi has already been accused of doing. Without the threat of prosecution from this body, Burundi has the possibility of continuing to commit the alleged crimes. Furthermore, other countries in the region may see Burundi as an example and also leave the ICC. The ICC relies on countries being signatories to the Rome Statute and without this, the ICC would lose its ability to prosecute international crimes.

The legislation to withdraw from the ICC still has to be approved by the senate and passed by President Nkurunziza.