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December 16, 2018

Burundi first country to quit ICC, Amnesty and HRW unhappy

Protesters against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term march towards the town of Ijenda, June 3, 2015. /REUTERS
Protesters against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term march towards the town of Ijenda, June 3, 2015. /REUTERS

Burundi is officially the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court following a notice a year ago but key rights groups are displeased.

The pullout takes effect Friday, after President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree in 2016. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding treaty, withdrawal takes effect a year after notification.

Burundi's parliament voted overwhelmingly to remove the country from the court's jurisdiction.

The move was unprecedented in a continent whose leaders often complain that the court disproportionately targets Africans.

More on this: Nkurunziza signs decree for Burundi to leave ICC

Also read: Burundi parliament overwhelmingly votes to leave ICC amid violence

But Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying the withdrawal shields agencies from accountability.

"Burundi's official withdrawal is the latest example of the government's deplorable efforts to shield those responsible for grave human rights violations from any kind of accountability," associate director Param-Preet Singh said.

"We urge the ICC to take a progressive approach in interpreting its jurisdiction so victims maintain a viable path to justice."

In April last year, the court opened a preliminary investigation into Burundi, focusing on killings, imprisonment, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as enforced disappearances.

The ICC said political violence had killed about 450 people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

More on this: ICC to probe Burundi clashes that left 430 dead - Bensouda

Amnesty International said the "cynical ICC withdrawal" will not derail wheels of justice.

"The government has made a cynical attempt to evade justice by taking the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the ICC," said organisation head Matt Cannock.

Cannock added that perpetrators, including members of the security forces, cannot so easily "shirk their alleged responsibility for crimes" under international law committed since 2015.

"Withdrawal from the Rome Statute does no, in any way, absolve Burundi of its obligations to end ongoing widespread human rights violations, or to address its abject failure to deliver justice for victims at the national level."

The official noted ICC can continue its preliminary investigations regardless of Burundi's efforts to stop its work by pulling out.

"Even if Nkurunziza's government will not cooperate, the ICC has ways and means to investigate and prosecute crimes committed."

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