ICC: Burundi’s withdrawal is a shame but does not absolve the country from its obligations

Brussels - Rome, 27 October 2017

Today, Burundi has become the first state to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The decision to withdraw came after the United Nations Human Rights Council resolved, on 30 September 2016, to create a commission of inquiry into alleged human rights abuses committed since April 2015 when Burundi has faced deadly political turmoil. In April 2016, the ICC’s Prosecutor started a preliminary examination into crimes potentially within the jurisdiction of the Court. In its report released last month, the independent UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi stated that crimes against humanity, including murder and sexual violence, were still being committed in the country (including by top officials in Burundi's National Intelligence Services and police force, military officials and members of the youth league of the ruling party, known as Imbonerakure) and asked the ICC to open an investigation as soon as possible.
Statement by Alison Smith, Director of the International Criminal Justice Program of No Peace Without Justice:
“No Peace Without Justice deeply regrets the withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) of Burundi, which came into effect today. By taking this unprecedented step backwards, its current Government clearly and sadly signalled its political attempt to deny justice to victims of atrocities by shielding their alleged perpetrators from any kind of accountability.
“The legal obligations incurred by Burundi during its membership in the Rome Statute continue to apply even now it is no longer an ICC State Party. Burundi is still bound by all court decisions, arrest warrants and all other binding orders that were issued from the time it joined until the date the withdrawal took effect. Likewise, despite its withdrawal, the Court continues to have jurisdiction over events in Burundi up until the date of its withdrawal, which are the subject of an ongoing preliminary examination by the ICC Prosecutor into alleged serious crimes under international law committed in the country since 2015.
“One thing persists irrespective of whether or not Burundi is or has been an ICC State Party and irrespective of whether or not it has an obligation to cooperate with the Court. Burundi has independent obligations under international law to end ongoing widespread human rights violations and to address them effectively. We urge the authorities in Burundi to discharge these obligations and ensure accountability and redress for victims at the national level.
“We look forward to the day when Burundi will rejoin the community of nations that together have decided that might is not right; that impunity for crimes under international law is a threat and an affront to all of humanity, requiring a global justice response when national systems are unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute; and that those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities need to account for their crimes irrespective of their official capacity or diplomatic status.

“At the same time, we urge all States Parties to use the opportunity of the upcoming Assembly of States Parties to reiterate again, in no uncertain terms, their commitment to the integrity and the principles underpinning the Rome ICC Statute and their absolute commitment to ensuring justice and redress for victims of the world’s worst crimes, wherever they may take place”.

For further information, please contact Alison Smith, Director of the International Criminal Justice Program of No Peace Without Justice, on asmith@npwj.org or Nicola Giovannini (Press & Public Affairs Coordinator) on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3915.