Burundi has presented its letter of intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“I can tell you that that has been done,” Burundian Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe told VOA Daybreak Africa. “There is no going back.”
African nations have criticized the ICC for focusing almost exclusively on Africa since the treaty creating the tribunal, the Rome Statute, entered into force in 2002.
“I believe that there are some other politically motivated reasons which have pushed the ICC to act on African cases. How many times have you heard about the ICC investigating crimes committed in Iraq? How many times have you heard the ICC investigating crimes committed in Afghanistan? Or let me go further, which group has been under investigation for crimes committed in Libya?” Nyamitwe said.
Burundi’s parliament passed legislation earlier this month to withdraw from the ICC. Two other African nations, South Africa and Gambia, have since announced they will also withdraw. South Africa notified the U.N. of its decision October 19.
“This is really a huge blow to victims of atrocity crimes,” said Elise Keppler, the associate director of the international justice program for Human Rights Watch.
HRW is one of 24 African and international human rights groups that have come together to call on African states to reaffirm their support for the ICC.
Burundi’s decision to withdraw from the court may be related to allegations of ongoing abuses in the country since President Pierre Nkrunziza’s controversial bid for a third term last year, Keppler said.
“There has been a spiraling of abuses in Burundi’s political situation and the issue of term limit and its president," Keppler told VOA. "In fact, there was a commission of inquiry there and investigators, as I understand it, who were expelled from the country after documenting abuses. So, I think we can see Burundi clearly has a kind of callous interest in trying to remove itself from the International Criminal Court."
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced in April she was opening a preliminary investigation into Burundi after receiving information “detailing acts of killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence.”
Burundi’s government says it is exercising its right as a sovereign nation to withdraw from the Rome Statute.
“We believe that it is too much fabrication to say that the government of Burundi has withdrawn from the ICC because it was accused of crimes against humanity," Foreign Minister Nyamitwe said. "I challenge you and I challenge that lawyer. I think one has to be clear that the ICC has not indicted anybody in Burundi of crimes against human humanity, of genocide or any other crimes that fall within the court’s jurisdiction."
The Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC will meet November 16-24. The assembly’s president and Senegal’s justice minister, Sidiki Kaba, has called for dialogue on the issue of states withdrawing from the court.