Burundi and ICC in strategic race against the clock

20 October 2016 by Benjamin Duerr

After the president of Burundi signed a law to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, the central African country is likely to become the first state to withdraw from the court's founding treaty. Now, experts say, both Burundi and the ICC, will get caught up in making largely symbolic moves in a race against time.

When Pierre Nkurunziza signed law no 1/14 of 18 October 2016, he became the world's first president to lead his country out of the ICC. With his signature under the “law concerning the withdrawal of the Republic of Burundi from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court” the president approved previous decisions by the senate and the national assembly. This is the first time a country has decided to leave the court which opened its doors in 2002. Burundi has been in turmoil and on the radar of the international community since early 2015. Both the ICC and the United Nations are looking into the violence there which has left hundreds of people dead.[IJT- 194]

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
Image caption: 
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)


The government of president Nkurunziza rejects any foreign intervention. Last weekend, it mobilized hundreds of people to hold anti-ICC and anti-UN protests across the country, local media reported. The last step the government has to take will be to send a written notification to the Secretary-General of the UN where the Rome Statute is deposited. The withdrawal will come into effect one year after the UN is informed. Until this date the court has jurisdiction over Burundi and ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, can decide to open investigations. Since a withdrawal does not affect investigations or proceedings which began before the withdrawal came into effect, experts have argued Bensouda should place a marker.

Alex Whiting, a professor at Harward Law School and former investigation and prosecution coordinator at the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), says the OTP should follow through and request the opening of formal investigations to keep the door to Burundi open. “Opening an investigation will serve as a placeholder to ensure that at some point those crimes can be investigated,” Whiting told International Justice Tribune.

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