International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned Friday her office would closely monitor the run-up to elections in Burundi and would not hesitate to prosecute perpetrators of “mass violence”.
Tensions are rising in the central African country ahead of planned polls in May and June, with at least 18 people killed since late April in protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term in office.
“My office… will be closely following developments in Burundi in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or resorting to violence,” Bensouda said in a statement.
“Any person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence… is liable to prosecution before the Court,” Bensouda said in the statement from ICC headquarters in the Dutch city of The Hague, expressing concern about “reports that violence ahead of the elections may escalate”.
Burundi’s capital Bujumbura erupted in protests after the ruling CNDD-FDD in late April nominated Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, to stand for reelection.
Opposition parties and civil society groups say his third-term bid violates the constitution, which limits a president to two terms, and the accords that ended a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus in 2006.
The constitutional court dismissed the concerns however, ruling that Nkurunziza’s first term term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.
Over 50,000 Burundians have fled the country in recent weeks, mostly to Rwanda.
Burundi, which is still recovering from a 13-year civil war between Hutus and Tutsis that ended in 2006, has been a state party to the ICC since 2004.
General elections are scheduled for May 26 and the presidential election for June 26.