Burundi to withdraw from International Criminal Court

Decision escalates dispute over the human rights situation in the East African country

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KIGALI, Rwanda — Lawmakers in Burundi overwhelmingly voted Wednesday in support of a plan to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, a decision that escalates a dispute with the international community over the human rights situation in the East African country.

No country has ever withdrawn from the ICC, according to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. The court prosecutes cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ninety-four out of 110 lawmakers voted in favour of the withdrawal plan, months after the ICC announced it would investigate Burundi’s ongoing violence.

Some African countries have threatened a withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, accusing the court of disproportionately targeting the continent.

Only Africans have been charged in the six cases that are ongoing or about to begin, though preliminary ICC investigations have been opened elsewhere in the world.

Of the 122 countries that are parties to the Rome Statute, 34 are African, the largest continental bloc. The United States is not a party to the treaty.

Burundi’s decision is not immediate. Observers say a county wishing to withdraw from the ICC must write to the U.N. secretary-general stating its intention, and the withdrawal takes effect a year after the day the secretary-general receives the letter.

Hundreds have died in Burundi since President Pierre Nkurunziza last year pursued and won a third term that many call unconstitutional. Since the ruling party announced his candidacy in April 2015, Burundi has seen violent street protests, forced disappearances and assassinations. More than 260,000 have fled.

On Monday, Burundi’s government banned three U.N. human rights investigators from entering the country following the release of a report that cited massive rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security agencies.

The push among some African countries to withdraw from ICC began after the court indicted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on charges of crimes against humanity for 2007 post-election violence in which more than 1,000 died. The ICC prosecutor said threats to witnesses, bribery and lack of co-operation by Kenya’s government led to the case’s collapse.

Some countries want a separate African court with jurisdiction over rights abuses.


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