The Hague – International Criminal Court judges have authorised an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes in Burundi including murder, rape and torture, announcing the decision on Thursday shortly after the East African nation became the first to formally quit the court.
Judges who studied evidence provided by prosecutors said it offers “a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” into crimes committed since April 26, 2015, allegedly by “State agents and other groups implementing State policies.”
There was no immediate response from Burundi’s government. The country descended into violence that left hundreds dead in 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term that he ultimately won.
“According to estimates, at least 1 200 persons were allegedly killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured and hundreds disappeared,” the court said in a statement. “The alleged acts of violence have reportedly resulted in the displacement of 413 490 persons between April 2015 and May 2017.”
The crimes allegedly were committed by Burundi’s national police force, intelligence service, units of the country’s army and members of the youth wing of the ruling party known as the Imbonerakure.
Judges issued the authorisation under seal on October 25, two days before Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC. It is the 11th full-scale investigation by the court that prosecutes some of the world’s worst atrocities. All but one of the investigations are in Africa.
Last month, Burundi’s Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana called the ICC withdrawal “a great achievement” in reinforcing the country’s independence, and called on police and prosecutors to respect human rights so that “white people” won’t have “false proofs to rely on in accusing Burundi.”
A UN commission of inquiry report earlier this year said crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, are still being committed in Burundi, and it asked the ICC to open an investigation as soon as possible. The report was based on interviews with more than 500 witnesses.