Burundi to leave International Criminal Court, setting precedent for Africa


Concerns from international justice advocates are mounting as Burundi moves to leave the International Criminal Court. The country is a step closer to making its exit from the institution after the lower house of Burundi’s Parliament voted on Wednesday to withdraw from the court.

The move may set a dangerous precedent for other countries to abandon the International Criminal Court, which is widely regarded as a flawed institution. Although numerous countries have threatened to withdraw from the system, none have ever actually carried out the threat.

The International Criminal Court operates out of The Hague, a coastal city in the Netherlands. The court’s purpose is to try cases related to war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated across the globe.

However, the court has elicited dissatisfaction from Africa because the majority of its focus has been on this continent, targeting rebels, warlords and government leaders from Darfur to Sudan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

One of the International Criminal Court’s most recent investigations again was launched in Africa. The court’s chief prosecutor announced a preliminary investigation would be held in Burundi, where violent street protests and political killings have left hundreds of people dead.

Additionally, Burundi’s government is under fire after accusations that the government played a role in these deaths in addition to other atrocities, including rapes and torture. Burundi’s actions have left the nation increasingly isolated. As such, some analysts are not surprised by Burundi’s move to the leave the International Criminal Court.

Recently, Burundi officials prevented United Nations human rights investigators from entering the country to look into human rights violations. Thus, Burundi had little to lose by further spurning the court. 

Yet, Burundi is not alone in its dissatisfaction with the court. Leaders across Africa see the court as a remnant of European colonialism, claiming the court is just another excuse to interfere in Africa.

Evidence of this intent, African leaders claim, is the oversight of the court in prosecuting human rights abuses that occur elsewhere across the globe.

With the majority of member African nations dissatisfied with the court, these countries’ leaders have taken steps to collectively withdraw from the institution. Burundi is merely the first country to take the step with its overwhelming vote of 94 to 2 to leave the court. Other African nations that have been vocal about leaving the court include Kenya, South Africa and Namibia. In 2013, Kenya’s Parliament even passed a motion to take its leave. In 2015, South Africa passed a similar motion, yet neither nation has taken any concrete steps.

This is likely due to the possible repercussions of leaving the court. Western nations that support the court have threatened to either reduce aid or inflict other penalties. Burundi seems to be disregarding these consequences as the United States and European Union are already imposing such stipulations on some Burundi security officials.

Still, since its founding in 2002, the International Criminal Court has proved largely ineffectual. Possible causes include scant cooperation by African governments as well as little participation from major global powers, including the United States.

Indeed, some of the court’s most high-profile cases, including charges of crimes against humanity against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and charges of genocide against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, have failed to bring any justice.

Despite the majority of African nations calling for an exit from the International Criminal Court and the largely ineffectiveness of the institution, some still have hopes for its cause.

One Burundian lawmaker, Andre Ndayizamba, commented, “It is known in all of the world that the great predators of human rights are the governments. The I.C.C. is not the problem. The problem is, we the Africans, we don’t know how to protect human rights.”

Concerns from international justice advocates are mounting as Kenya moves to leave the International Criminal Court.



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