The International Criminal Court on Thursday gave prosecutors the go ahead to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the government of Burundi against its political opposition between April 2015 and October 2017.
In a statement, judges said there is "a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation in relation to crimes against humanity." The war crimes, judges said, include murder, rape and torture that led to the deaths of more than 1,000 people and prompted 400,000 to flee the country.
The decision was handed down on October 25, just two days before Burundi made the decision to withdraw from the criminal court. The decision was kept under seal until Thursday, but the court will still have jurisdiction over crimes committed while Burundi was a member.
Burundi erupted into protests and violence in 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term. Critics said he was defying term limits in the constitution and the agreement that ended Burundi's civil war.
Soldiers put down a coup attempt while Nkurunziza was out of the country.
Burundi protests executive order
U.S. President Donald Trump recently signed a continuation of a 2015 executive order that declared “a national emergency to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the security in Burundi.”
In an interview this week with VOA's Central African service, Burundian Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Aime Nyamitwe took issue with the executive order, saying no one in Burundi, including Americans, feels unsafe.
He said Burundi has made tremendous strides from the political chaos that started in May 2015 and that peace and security in all parts of the country have been restored.
“Burundi is now peaceful. The people of Burundi have defeated those who wanted to seize power by force, and the entire country is now peaceful. We are really puzzled when we hear reports that Burundi threatens the security of the region and the security of Americans,” he said.
Nyamitwe also said that the continuation of the 2015 executive order – which the government had objected to from the outset – stems from the fact that the U.S. and some European countries continue to receive wrong information about what is really going on in his country.
"The only thing that may trigger such a decision is the disinformation campaign spread by those who have their own agenda," he said.
Burundi has called for the refugees who fled in 2015 to return; but, residents of camps in Rwanda and Uganda recently told VOA that killings of perceived government opponents in Burundi continue, and they would not feel safe returning home.