International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

ICC Judges Authorize Investigation Into Crimes in Burundi

Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have authorized Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to initiate investigations into crimes committed in the central African country of Burundi over the last two and a half years.

Pre-Trial Chamber III first issued the authorization under seal on October 25. It was unveiled in a public redacted version yesterday, less than two weeks after Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC on October 27. Judges determined that the court has jurisdiction over the crimes allegedly committed in that country while Burundi was a State Party, from December 1, 2004 through October 26, 2017.

Burundi fell into turmoil in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government quelled a coup attempt that followed his decision to stand for a third term despite a constitutional two-term limit. The aftermath of the attempted coup has allegedly been characterized by gross human rights violations. Two months ago, a United Nations panel investigating human rights abuses in Burundi said it was “struck by the scale and the brutality of the violations” taking place in the country, citing instances of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearances.

According to evidence presented to Pre-Trial Chamber III by the prosecution, the alleged crimes were committed by state agents and other groups implementing state policies—including the Burundian National Police, national intelligence service, and units of the Burundian army, which were operating largely through parallel chains of command—together with members of the youth wing of the ruling party, known as the Imbonerakure.

Accordingly, judges authorized the prosecution to proceed with an investigation in relation to crimes against humanity committed since April 26, 2015, including murder and attempted murder, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, and persecution.

In a statement from the court, judges noted that according to estimates, at least 1,200 persons were allegedly killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured, and hundreds disappeared. The alleged acts of violence have reportedly led to the displacement of 413,490 persons between April 2015 and May 2017.

A statement from the court says that judges accepted, exceptionally, to conduct the authorization proceedings under seal, and only with the participation of the prosecutor, in order to mitigate risks to the life and well-being of victims and potential witnesses. Furthermore, the judges granted the prosecutor a delay of 10 working days in notifying states normally exercising jurisdiction over the alleged crimes of the initiation of the investigation so that protective measures for victims and potential witnesses could be implemented.

“An investigation into the situation in Burundi would commence prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective. Therefore, subsequent to the entry into force of its withdrawal, Burundi’s obligation to cooperate with the Court in relation to such an investigation, if authorized, remains in effect for as long as the investigation lasts and encompasses any proceedings resulting from the investigation,” stated the judges.

“Burundi accepted those obligations when ratifying the Rome Statute,” they added.

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