The Burundian parliament’s motion on October 13 to withdraw from the International Criminal Court has elicited criticism and condemnation from civil society.
A coalition of Burundian civil society organisations has termed the move a ploy by the government to evade scrutiny. Another civil society organisation — Coalition for the International Criminal Court — said the withdrawal was an exercise in futility.
"This is a clear move orchestrated by the government to guard itself against external scrutiny and to protect its leaders who commit atrocities," said Lambert Nigarura, chairperson of the coalition and legal representative for Coalition for the ICC.
"What happened in the country was people killing each other. The Bill for Burundi to quit the Rome Statute could encourage Burundians to continue killing each other," said Banciryanino Fabien, one of the two MPs who opposed the motion.
Burundi’s parliament voted to withdraw from the Rome Statute, which it signed in September 2004.
The Senate voted unanimously to pass the Bill, which now awaits President Pierre Nkurunziza’s assent. However, it will take one year for the process to be concluded.
Minister for Justice Laurentine Kanyana said the country did not need the ICC. As a sovereign state, he said, Burundi is willing to promote and protect the human rights of its citizens.
Burundi is not the first African country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. In September 2013, the Kenyan parliament voted for the country to withdraw from the ICC, but three years on, Kenya is still a state party to the Rome Statute.
In addition, some African countries had announced their intention of withdraw from the court with South Africa hinting at ending its ICC membership.
This came after Pretoria failed to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his visit to the African Union Summit in Johannesburg. President al-Bashir is being sought by ICC over crimes against humanity charges.
Burundi’s case, however, has raised questions on the timing of the government to withdraw from the court six months after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda launched preliminary investigations into the crimes that were committed since last year when protests erupted against President Nkurunziza’s decision to seek another term.
The decision to withdraw from the ICC comes a few days after the government suspended its co-operation with the UN High Commission for Human Rights and declared its investigators unwanted.
The UN had released a report that cited systematic killings, torture and arbitrary arrests that have been conducted by the Burundi authorities and the ruling party youth wing Imbonerakure.