ICC okays probe into Burundi’s Nkurunziza for war crimes

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Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza walks with military officials during the country's Independence Day on Wednesday. Despite criticism at home and abroad, the president is defying a two-term limit and running for a third term in an election set for the middle of July.

The International Criminal Court ICC has granted permission to its Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in Burundi.

The court’s judges had allowed investigations on October 25, two days before Bujumbura pulled out of the Rome Statute that established the court, on October 27, 2017.

In their decision, the judges found there was “a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation in relation to crimes against humanity”.

The decision was, exceptionally, issued under seal, that is to say confidentially, and only accessible to the ICC Prosecutor, since on the basis of available documentation the past and present circumstances in Burundi and neighbouring countries establish that there is a danger to the life and well-being of victims and potential witnesses.

The Chamber found a reasonable basis to believe that State agents and groups implementing State policies, including the Burundian National Police, the national intelligence service, and units of the Burundian army, operating largely through parallel chains of command, together with members of the youth wing of the ruling party, known as the “Imbonerakure”, launched a widespread and systematic attack against the Burundian civilian population.

The attack targeted those who opposed or were perceived to oppose the ruling party after the announcement, in April 2015, that President Pierre Nkurunziza was going to run for a third term in office.

The Chamber found a reasonable basis to believe that Burundian State agents and members of the Imbonerakure committed, at least, the following crimes against humanity:

Murders

According to estimates, no less than 1,200 individuals were killed between April 2015 and June 2017.

The main perpetrators of these killings are reported to be the Burundian security forces, as well as members of the Imbonerakure.

The crimes were mostly committed in Bujumbura, but also in other provinces and even outside of Burundi.

The existence of at least nine mass graves was reported in 2016.

Arrests

Thousands of persons have allegedly been arrested and detained in violation of fundamental rules of international law by police and intelligence officers, often assisted by members of the Imbonerakure.

Torture

In the period between April 2015 and April 2016, between 595 and 651 cases of torture were documented taking place in particular in the detention centres of the intelligence services, the police, and unofficial places of detention.

Acts of torture appear to have continued also into 2017.

Rape

Dozens of cases of sexual violence committed by police officers, military personnel and members of the Imbonerakure have been documented since April 2015.

Some of the victims are reported to be as young as eight years old. According to the material submitted, women who fled the country in particular were subjected to sexual violence near the border by members of the Imbonerakure and others as a punishment for leaving the country.

ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE

The Chamber noted the multiple instances where members of the opposition, members of the civil society and young men suspected of having participated in demonstrations or of belonging to a rebel movement were removed from the protection of the law and have been abducted, arrested and detained by members of the security forces.

PERSECUTION

The Chamber found, on the basis of the available material, that the crimes of murder and attempted murder, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, and enforced disappearance, constitute persecution.