The ICC Makes a Courageous Move Against a Repressive Regime

Press release
en fr

(Paris, The Hague) Today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the decision to open an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi between 26 April 2015 and 26 October 2017, the day before Burundi’s effective withdrawal from the ICC. This courageous decision, a prelude to a difficult investigation, comes as the victims of the dictatorial regime have nothing more to expect from the Burundian legal system and in light of the indifference of the international community.

Today, the ICC published publicly a decision taken on 25 October 2017, which has remained confidential until today to ensure the safety of victims and potential witnesses. The investigation will concern crimes against humanity committed in Burundi and by Burundian nationals outside the country, including alleged crimes of opponents in the surrounding refugee camps. Therefore, Burundi’s announcement to withdraw from the ICC appears retrospectively as another vain attempt to shield its leaders from international justice.

Nevertheless, the investigation will be difficult. On the one hand, the country has been closing its borders to international journalists and investigators and is suppressing all dissenting voices in Burundi and in Burundian refugee camps in neighbouring countries. On the other hand, Burundi has been isolating itself from the international community, symbolised by its withdrawal from the ICC, which was a first in the history of the court, and by Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with any request for independent investigations since the beginning of the repression. The worrying situation in Burundi has claimed thousands of lives, pushing more than 422,000 people to flee the country.

“The ICC has published a courageous decision, especially since the announced investigation will be confronted with numerous difficulties because of the absence of cooperation of an authoritarian regime. Since 2015, the Burundian authorities have tried to cover their crimes by limiting or refusing the entrance of international observers and journalists. Burundi has attempted to evade international justice by being the first country to withdraw from the ICC. Today’s announcement shows that this attempt was futile.”

Karine Bonneau, FIDH International Justice Officer

The Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision comes as victims of successive repressive waves have nothing left to expect from the domestic legal system which has opened no genuine investigation into the crimes committed. Moreover, the African (African Union, Community of East African States) and international political bodies (Human Rights Council, United Nations Security Council) have failed to find the political solutions to navigate a way out of the crisis. As a result, the ICC is emerging as the ultimate recourse and last resort for forgotten Burundian victims.

“For the victims who have nothing left to expect from Burundian justice, and who have suffered from the indifference of the international community, today’s announcement of the opening of an ICC investigation sounds like a promise of immense hope. Hope to see the committed crimes move out of oblivion. But also, one day, to obtain justice.”

Florent Geel, Head of FIDH Africa Office

Since the investigation promises to be particularly difficult and complex, it is vital that the investigation can depend on the strong support of the States concerned and of the African and international political authorities.

“Our organisations, which have since the beginning of the crisis in 2015 extensively documented the crimes committed through several field investigations, notes and reports, will continue to document crimes committed in Burundi so that the ICC investigation will be able to lift the veil on the crimes committed and lead to the prosecution of those most responsible whoever they are. ”

Anschaire Nikoyagize, President of the ITEKA League
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