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News > World

Burundi Becomes First Country to Leave the ICC

  •  Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza waves to South African President Jacob Zuma after an African Union-sponsored dialogue, February 27, 2016.

    Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza waves to South African President Jacob Zuma after an African Union-sponsored dialogue, February 27, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 October 2017

Officials accused the International Criminal Court of disproportionately prosecuting Africans and ”being a weapon used by the west to enslave.”

Burundi has withdrawn from International Criminal Court (ICC), becoming the first country to do so in history, because of an alleged bias against African countries.

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The government of Burundi has been accused of crimes against humanity by human rights organization and independent observers. The UN Commission of Inquiry sought to investigate these claims further by asking the ICC to prosecute alleged human rights abusers, over “a systematic attack against the civilian population.

“The ICC has shown itself to be a political instrument and weapon used by the west to enslave” other countries, said Willy Nyamitwe, a spokesperson for the Burundian President’s office. “This is a great victory for Burundi because it has defended its sovereignty and national pride.”

Last year, the country issued an official notice of withdrawal from the organization which did not take effect immediately.

Activists condemned the decision as a means to obfuscate accountability.

Lambert Nigarura, the president of the Burundi Coalition for the ICC, said that “the decision to withdraw Burundi from the Rome Statute comes at a time when the machine continues to kill with impunity in Burundi.”

“Today, Burundian justice, as it is so called, has lost contact with life. It has become a mere tool of repression of any dissenting voice,” Nigarura added in his statement.

Alleged human rights abuse claims emerged in 2015 following a crackdown on opposition protesters when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his third campaign for president, which opposition figures argued was unconstitutional.

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A preliminary investigation revealed instances of “killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as cases of enforced disappearances.”

Estimates suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of Burundians have died due to the country’s ongoing violence, and hundreds of thousands have fled.

Though the decision to leave the ICC does not remove its jurisdiction for crimes committed while Burundi was a member state, it will make a prosecution significantly more difficult.

There are 34 more African countries who are also ICC members. This decision by the Burundian government raises concerns that other countries will join Burundi’s decision to withdraw. Gambia and South Africa have made similar threats in defiance of the ICC process, though these decisions were not delivered. Uganda and Kenya have also threatened to withdraw.

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