The government of Burundi has become the first country to withdraw its membership from the International Criminal Court.
According to an ICC spokesman, “Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute [took] effect on Friday, 27 October 2017.
However, although the government of Burundi is no longer a legal member of the court, the East African nation is facing investigations into alleged human rights abuses, and its withdrawal is reportedly viewed as an attempt to distance itself from the charges.
The International Criminal Court is designed to prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The court has global jurisdiction.
It is a court of last resort, intervening only when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute. [More on the functions of the ICC].
Last year, Burundi, along with three other African countries, threatened to disassociate from the court amid claims of bias against African governments. So far, only Burundi has carried out its threat. [Leanwords published a podcast explaining why African states are leaving the ICC].
The government of Burundi is being investigated following reports of “killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as cases of enforced disappearances.”
These reports are tied to a violent political crisis surrounding President Pierre Nkurunziza’s run for a third term in office – a bid that was endorsed by the Constitutional Court of Kenya.
“The ICC has shown itself to be a political instrument and weapon used by the west to enslave” other states, said presidential office spokesman Willy Nyamitwe.
“This is great victory for Burundi because it has defended its sovereignty and national pride.”
Notwithstanding, the government of Burundi may not be in the clear just yet. Article 127 of the Rome Statute of the ICC states that the withdrawal does not affect the jurisdiction of the ICC over the crimes that have been committed while the country was a member.
Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, who is Gambian, has argued that the ICC is helping Africa by its prosecutions of criminals.