The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Thursday authorized [order] prosecutor Fatou Bensouda [official profile] to investigate potential crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burundi. The decision of Pre-Trial Chamber III was the result of a preliminary examination [JURIST report] launched in Spring 2016. Welcoming the decision, Bensouda noted [press release] that the opening of an investigation does not presume an outcome.
My decision to open an investigation does not make any determinative findings on the guilt or innocence of particular persons. Only if and when, based on the evidence collected, there are reasonable grounds to believe a person is criminally responsible for crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, will my Office request the judges to issue an arrest warrant or summons to appear.
Bensouda also asserted that Burundi “remains under a legal obligation to cooperate with my Office’s investigations and the Court.”
Unrest erupted in the east African nation in 2015 following president Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term [JURIST commentary] despite constitutional limitations. Nkurunziza was elected to his third term [JURIST report] in July 2016. The response to protests by security organizations such as the Burundian National Police, the national intelligence service and ruling party affiliates like the youth organization Imbonerakure allegedly involved crimes against humanity including murder, rape, imprisonment, torture, and enforced disappearance.
In response to the preliminary examination, Burundi became the first state party to withdraw under Article 127 of the Rome Statute [text] governing the ICC, effective October 27, 2017. Thursday’s announcement [press release], however, makes it clear the court considers its jurisdiction to include crimes committed during the entirety of a State Party’s membership, including crimes that continue after withdrawal. This is a position that some scholars have disputed [JURIST Commentary].