ICC approves investigation into crimes against humanity in Burundi

ICC approves investigation into crimes against humanity in Burundi”

Today, 9 November 2017, Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court ("ICC" or "Court"), composed of Judges Chang-ho Chung (Presiding Judge), Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua and Raul C. Pangalangan, issued a public redacted version of its decision authorising the ICC Prosecutor to open an investigation regarding crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed in Burundi or by nationals of Burundi outside Burundi since 26 April 2015 until 26 October 2017.

Judges said evidence provided by prosecutors offers "a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation" into crimes committed since April 26, 2015, allegedly by "State agents and other groups implementing State policies". Hundreds were killed as government forces cracked down on opposition supporters.

The decision follows Burundi's decision to withdraw from the court as of October 26, 2017.

Other African nations have made similar complaints, with both Gambia and South Africa having threatened to leave.

Fighting broke out in 2015 after the president, Pierre Nkurunziza ran for office for the third time.

"Members of the Imbonerakure and government forces' devastating track record of unchecked abuses, which include rape, torture, and executions, left Burundi ripe for ICC scrutiny", said Param-Preet Singh, associate worldwide justice director at Human Rights Watch.

In a response to the decision, Burundi presidential office spokesman Willy Nyamitwe called the ICC "corrupt" in a tweet and said it had just "shot itself in the foot". The alleged acts of violence have reportedly resulted in the displacement of 413,490 persons between April 2015 and May 2017. Members of the Burundi ruling party's youth league, the Imbonerakure, _and government security forces, particularly the national intelligence service (Service national de renseignement, SNR), have killed and tortured scores of opposition political party members and other perceived opponents since the start of the crisis. It is the 11th full-scale investigation by the court that prosecutes some of the world's worst atrocities.

"Whatever ICC would do, [the] Burundi government will not cooperate", he added. "We know that it will take long but the path toward justice will not be stopped".

According to differing tolls provided by the United Nations or non-governmental organisations, the violence in Burundi has claimed between 500 and 2,000 lives, and more than 400,000 Burundians have fled overseas. Based on interviews with 500 victims and witnesses, the report also suggested Burundi's armed opposition groups had committed rights abuses.

A United Nations commission of inquiry report earlier this year said crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, are still being committed in Burundi, and it asked the ICC to open an investigation as soon as possible.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Thursday's decision, saying it "signals that ICC withdrawal does not shield a government from scrutiny about its role in grave human rights violations". "The role of the ICC can not be negated, leaving horrific abuses forgotten in darkness".

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