Q&A: Justice and the ICC in Burundi

Burundi HRW image

Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village, Kigoma, in western Tanzania on May 17, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into potential grave international crimes in Burundi in April 2016 to determine whether a full investigation should be initiated into violence arising from the country’s 2015 political crisis. We asked the Burundian Coalition for the ICC to assess the current situation, victims’ expectations for justice, the role of the ICC, and alternative avenues to accountability.

What is the current situation in Burundi?

Burundi is today hit by a political crisis that began late April 2015 after Pierre Nkurunziza decided to bid a controversial 3rd term of office as the president of the Republic. Protests that erupted over the President’s decision to run for a third term from 26 April 2015 were violently crushed. In a highly repressive move of the Government against those who opposed the third term,  national and international human rights organizations believe that gross violations of human rights are being committed by security and defense forces including, murders, forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture, gang rape, and others.

Repression and retaliation that started late April 2015 continue a year later, with a particular ethnic trend targeting Tutsi minority group.

What do victims and affected communities expect from the ICC preliminary examination?

Since national judicial mechanisms have failed to prosecute gross human rights violations, victims and affected community strongly believe in the ICC. This category of people and human rights organizations as well welcomed the decision of the ICC-Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to open preliminary examination. Many have expressed their readiness to provide information that they believe will help the ICC-OTP assess and verify the situation and decide accordingly.

Who were victims expecting to intervene before the ICC preliminary examination announcement—what level of expectation was there for the ICC in particular to intervene as opposed to another accountability mechanism?

As the crisis leading to mass atrocities erupted in April 2016, victims repeatedly demanded the United Nations Security Council to vote a resolution setting up an independent commission of inquiry and a UN protection mission as well. Victims believed national prosecution services were obliged to prosecute mass atrocities. The same was not done. The Public Prosecution Office has proven its incapacity or unwillingness to prosecute mass atrocities perpetrators. Many believe that he rather endeavored to protect crimes perpetrators. Victims often demanded regional bodies including the East African Community’s and the African Union bodies to intervene. Victims believe that the ICC can make a difference. They were therefore eager to see the ICC making some steps.

How have expectations and perceptions of the ICC changed since the preliminary examination announcement?

Victims and public in general welcomed the announcement of preliminary examinations. However, some believe that the process is taking much time and the ICC actions, if delayed, would lose their deterrence effect.

Are affected communities aware of the scope of the ICC preliminary examination?

Thanks to media and civil society activists, affected community is aware of the scope of the preliminary examination. They more or less know that the concerned crimes and perpetrators are that committed or involved in the commission of crimes that started in April 2015 to date.

How can the ICC best moderate expectations considering its mandate and the largely confidential nature of preliminary examinations? What communications policy will best address the expectations of affected communities?

The ICC-OTP can best moderate expectations through frequent and updated press releases and communiqués, calling victims and informing then about next steps and actions undertaken.

What alternative accountability and justice mechanisms are available?

As to date, some mechanisms exist but deal with specific crimes, including the Committee against Torture whose scope is the Convention against Torture. The African Commission for Human and People’s rights can also afford victims space of engaging an African accountability mechanism, namely the African Court on human and people’s rights.

What is the likelihood of establishing of another African Union-mandated mechanism like the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal?

The recent visit of the African Union Peace and Security Council has proven that the African Union is likely to close eyes with regards to crimes committed in Burundi. Nothing was said about ongoing crimes committed on the ground.

African perspective is rather oriented to create an African criminal court, likely to challenge or “presented” as playing the same role as the ICC. Hopefully, the African Union member states will not agree to withdraw from the ICC as proposed by some countries. This would undermine existing accountability mechanisms and encourage the commission of further mass atrocities either in Burundi or on the continent.


The Burundian Coalition for the International Criminal Court brings together human rights activists and NGOs working towards ratification of the Rome Statute of the ICC and full implementation of the Statute in national laws. The Burundian Coalition was involved in facilitating communications reporting alleged crimes to the ICC-OTP, including killings, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and enforced disappearances, which helped trigger the OTP’s decision to open the preliminary examination into whether the ICC would have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015.

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One Response to Q&A: Justice and the ICC in Burundi

  1. Pingback: ONU en Burundi: Es necesario proteger a las minorías étnicas de la violencia y frenar las represalias sobre la sociedad civil |

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