Burundi votes to withdraw from the ICC and interrupts its international cooperation, amid a backdrop of continued international crimes

Burundi votes to withdraw from the ICC and interrupts its international cooperation, amid a backdrop of continued international crimes©AFP
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(Paris, Bujumbura) FIDH and its member organisation in Burundi, ITEKA, regret the overwhelming vote by Burundian lawmakers on 12 October 2016 in favour of the withdrawal of Burundi from the International Criminal Court (ICC) Statute, to which it acceded in 2004.

This decision, making Burundi the first State ever to withdraw from the ICC, comes just two days after the government announced it would suspend its cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, amid ongoing gross human rights violations in the country. Our organisations reiterate our call to the Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, to launch, as early as possible, an investigations into the situation in Burundi so that the perpetrators of the serious crimes committed do not go unpunished. The African Union and the United Nations should, for their part, deploy an international force, capable of ending the continuous escalation of violence.

“The withdrawal from the ICC and the expulsion of the United Nations human rights office from Burundi is a significant escalation of the regime’s policy to isolate itself. This attempt to deprive the international community of its eyes and ears in Burundi in order to continue to commit serious crimes with impunity and without the world knowing, requires a strong and immediate response from the African Union and the United Nations"

Dimitris Christopoulos, President of FIDH

On 12 October, Burundi’s Lower House adopted the bill by 94 votes in favour, 2 votes against and 14 abstentions, paving the way for Burundi to withdraw from the Statute of the ICC. A few hours later, the bill was unanimously endorsed by the Senate. It is expected to be announced officially by the President of the Republic in the coming days. The withdrawal will only come into effect one year after notifying the Secretary General of the United Nations.

“Burundi will be the first State in the world to withdraw from the ICC. This withdrawal, which comes as a form of admission of guilt, will have no impact on the ongoing preliminary examination before the Court. Given the compelling evidence pointing to international crimes being committed and the absolute impunity their perpetrators are enjoying in the country, the Prosecutor of the ICC should launch an investigation as soon as possible”

Anschaire Nikoyagize, President of ITEKA

In April 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC opened a preliminary examination into crimes falling within the Court’s jurisdiction which have allegedly been committed in Burundi since April 2015. Article 127(2) of the Statute of the ICC recalls that a withdrawal does not discharge a State of its obligations and does not affect the course of procedure that the ICC had started prior to the date on which the withdrawal comes into effect.

This withdrawal from the ICC comes nearly one month after the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) released its report, indicating that “gross human rights violations have and are taking place, committed primarily by State agents and those linked to them. These gross violations are systematic and patterned and impunity is pervasive”. It concludes: “Given the country’s history, the danger of the crime of genocide also looms large”.

On 10 October 2016, the Burundian government also announced that “following the complicity of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Burundi [OHCHR] in the drafting of the misleading and controversial report of the so-called United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB)”, it suspended all cooperation and collaboration with the OHCHR’s office “until further notice”.

The same day, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, in a letter sent to all ambassadors and consuls general, declared Christof Heyns, Pablo De Greiff and Maya Sahli Fadel, the experts mandated by the United Nations and the African Union personae non gratae, without mentioning the reasons for this decision. These three experts were the authors of the recent report of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“In less than one week, the Burundian regime took three decisions which show its clear unwillingness to contribute towards a political solution to the major crisis affecting the country since President Nkurunziza’s decision in April 2015 to stay in power”

Drissa Traoré, Vice-President of the FIDH

On 14 April 2016, upon returning from a fact-finding mission in Burundi and in the preamble of a forthcoming report, the FIDH and ITEKA warned that the UN’s response to the government’s repression of a genocidal character must be strong. Ever since, the situation has continued to deteriorate, despite the numerous warnings by our organisations and decisions taken by the international community on Burundi.

On 29 July 2016 the United Nations Security Council voted in favour of a resolution authorising the deployment of an international police component for a period of one year. The authorities immediately reacted, indicating “the Government of Burundi rejects any provision of the resolution related to the sending of any force to its territory”. The actual deployment of such a force is more necessary that ever.