27 October 2017

Burundi Becomes First Country to Leave International Criminal Court

Photo: Rick Bajornas/UN Photo
A view of the International Criminal Court (ICC) premises.

An ICC spokesman has confirmed that Burundi's pullout took effect on Friday, a year after the country notified the court of its intention to leave. Some African nations feel the ICC focuses too much on the continent.

Burundi has become the first country to pull out from the International Criminal Court after a one-year withdrawal process came to an end.

The country notified former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of its intent to leave the court on October 27, 2016, as one of three countries -- along with South Africa and The Gambia -- to make such moves last year.

Both South Africa and The Gambia later took back their withdrawals.

The ICC, which was established to prosecute the world's worst atrocities, has said Burundi's withdrawal does not affect the preliminary examination of the country's situation already being undertaken by the court's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

Political turmoil

Burundi, a former German and Belgian colony, has been in a state of deadly political turmoil since 2015, when protests broke out after the ruling party announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third five-year term.

Protests and violence have continued since Nkurunziza was elected to the third term in a disputed election held on July 21, 2015, without the participation of the opposition.

A UN commission of inquiry said last month that crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, were still being committed in Burundi. The commission asked the ICC to open an investigation as soon as possible.

Those implicated in the human rights abuses include top officials in Burundi's National Intelligence Services and police force, as well as military officials and members of the ruling party's youth branch, known as Imbonerakure. The ongoing violence and unrest have forced hundreds of thousands to leave the country.

Shielding perpetrators

"Burundi's official withdrawal from the International Criminal Court is the latest expample of the government's deplorable efforts to shield those responsible for grave human rights violations from any kind of accountability," said Param-Preet Singh, Human Rights Watch's associated director of international justice in a statement.

Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Burundi's withdrawal "marks a serious step backwards which risks further isolating the country within the international community."

Burundi's justice minister, Aimee Laurentine Kanyana, however called the ICC withdrawal "a great achievement" toward increased independence, while calling on police and prosecutors to respect human rights so that "white people" would not have "false proofs to rely on in accusing Burundi."

AU call for withdrawal

Many African nations have long accused the court of being biased against Africa, with the overwhelming majority of its investigations targeting the continent. In February 2017, the African Union (AU) called at a summit for a mass withdrawal of member states, but the resolution was not legally binding and was opposed by Nigeria and Senegal.

Following Burundi's withdrawal, a total of 33 African states are now signatories to the Rome Statute that is the foundation of the ICC, among 123 countries worldwide

The United States, along with Israel, Sudan and Russia, have not ratified the statute, while other countries such as China and India have not even signed it.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Election amid high tensions

July 21, 2015: After three months of protests against Pierre Nkurunziza's third term and fierce battles between Nkurunziza's supporters and the opposition, the presidential election was finally held. But the opposition chose to boycott it.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Agathon Rwasa, an unlucky loser?

July 24, 2015: President Nkurunziza wins the presidential election in the first round. With 69% of the vote, he was far ahead of his main challenger, Agathon Rwasa. By the end of July, Rwasa was surprisingly elected as first vice president of the national assembly, sparking criticism from his former allies.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

European Union raises concerns

August 1, 2015: Adolphe Nshimirimana, head of internal security and considered the right-hand man of the president, is assassinated. In a statement, the European Union raised concern over this "dangerous escalation of violence." Brussels calls for "restraint" and a resumption of "dialogue."

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Attacks on civil society

August 3, 2015: Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, head of the human rights organization (APRODH), survives an assassination attempt and is evacuated to Brussels for medical treatment. But his family continues to be targeted and in October 2015 one of his sons-in-laws is killed and a month later his son is also murdered in Bujumbura.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Tensions with neighboring Rwanda

Since the crisis began, a large number of Burundian refugees fled to neighboring Rwanda. On November 6, 2015, President Kagame spoke about what was happening in Burundi: "People are dying every day, corpses littering the streets," he said. "They should learn from what happened here." Nkurunziza's team fired back, accusing Rwanda of training rebels seeking to destabilize the country.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Violence escalates

December 12, 2015: A crackdown begins on neighborhoods like Nyakabiga that were believed to be strongholds of protesters. This came after an attack by rebels against three military camps. More than a hundred victims were identified. The UN said that 400 people had been killed since April 26 and 3,500 were arrested in connection with the crisis.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

The United Nations sounds the alarm

December 17, 2015: The United Nations warns that the situation in Burundi is "highly explosive" and that the country is on the path to a civil war. Adama Dieng, the UN special rapporteur on the prevention of genocide, warns of a possible genocide. "If a conflict breaks out on a large scale, we cannot pretend that we did not know about it," he said.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

A new rebel movement is formed

December 23, 2015: A former army officer in the Burundian army forms the "Republican Forces of Burundi" (FOREBU). Lieutenant Colonel Edouard Nshimirimana accuses Pierre Nkurunziza of instigating the security forces to commit acts of violence and pitting police and military against each other along ethnic lines.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Attempted dialogue

December 28, 2015: Inter-Burundian peace talks start in Entebbe under the auscipices of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The African Union (AU) also announces that it will deploy a 5,000-strong peacekeeping force to help secure the country, an idea that is immediately rejected by the Burundian government.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Mediation fails

January 2016: Mediation fails to kickoff in Arusha. A month later, February 25 -26, the African Union sends a "high- level" delegation to Bujumbura led by South African President Jacob Zuma. It's another failed attempt. Bujumbura refuses to talk with the opposition CNARED. UNHCR announces a group of independent experts to investigate violations of human rights in Burundi.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Allegations of torture by security forces

April 18, 2016: The UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein criticizes Burundi's security forces for routinely torturing prisoners. Since the beginning of the year, his team had registered at least 345 new cases of torture. He urged the Burundian authorities to immediately put an end to torture in all its forms.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Opposition not invited for dialogue

May 21, 2016: After another delay, the Inter-Burundian dialogue resumes in Arusha, Tanzania at the initiative of the Tanzanian mediator, former President Benjamin Mkapa. The Burundian authorities demand that the opposition coalition CNARED should not be part of the dialogue. In June, the facilitator [Mkapa] travels to Brussels to meet members of the Opposition for the first time.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

Costly doodles

June 3: Eleven students from a high school in Muramvya, in central Burundi, were charged and jailed for insulting the head of state. Their crime: doodled pictures of President Nkurunziza. A week earlier, more than 300 college students from Ruziba, south of Bujumbura, were expelled from school for the same reason.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

A former minister assassinated

July 13, 2016. Hafsa Mossi, a former minister believed to be close to President Nkurunziza, is murdered near his home. A member of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, the former journalist was also the communications advisor for Nkurunziza. It is the first time a prominent political figure has been assassinated in Burundi.

Burundi: The chronology of a crisis

An empty seat in Kigali

The crisis in Burundi was on the agenda of the 27th AU Summit in Kigali in July, but it took place without a representative from Bujumbura. The Burundi delegation left the Rwandan capital without explanation just days before the start of the summit. No action was taken against the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who still refuses to negotiate with the opposition.

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