The International Criminal Court approved a prosecution request to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in Burundi by government and government-linked groups against political foes from April 2015 to October 2017.
The decision follows Burundi’s decision to withdraw from the court as of October 26, 2017.The court will still have jurisdiction over crimes committed while Burundi was a member.
A court statement said the country’s government “launched a widespread and systematic attack against the Burundian civilian population… targeting those who opposed or were perceived to oppose the ruling party.”
In a statement, the court said the prosecutor presented sufficient evidence of crimes against humanity to merit a formal investigation, including murder, torture, rape and persecution, that led to more than 1,000 deaths.
Unrest has gripped Burundi since the announcement, in April 2015, that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office. He won in July that year, despite protests that the vote was rigged and him seeking a third term violated both the constitution and the terms of an agreement that ended a previous rebellion.
UN rights investigators and independent activists accused government forces of widespread violations, including forced disappearances and of orchestrating a campaign of terror. Around 400,000 people fled to neighbouring countries amid the unrest which has crippled Burundi’s economy.
Reacting to the court decision, top Nkurunziza adviser Willy Nyamitwe tweeted: “The corrupt ICC just shot itself in the foot.”
“This is obviously cheating, but no doubt Burundi will be the winner in this battle. This is the last card of the Western powers,” he said.