Burundi signed the Rome Statute in January 1999 and ratified it in September 2004. Throughout its history, Burundi has experienced allegations of serious international crimes in the course of numerous civil wars. In April 2016, after numerous communications about alleged Rome Statute crimes including killings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, the ICC prosecutor announced a preliminary examination of the situation in the country from April 2015 onward, when demonstrations and violence erupted over the incumbent president’s decision to run for a third term. Civil society has called for justice for all victims of grave international crimes.
ICC preliminary examination follows post-election violence
Reconstruction efforts in Burundi were upended on 25 April 2015 when incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office. Widespread violence occurred against civilian demonstrators questioning the legality of the process. On 25 April 2016, the ICC prosecutor announced a preliminary examination to determine if an investigation into alleged Rome Statute crimes from April 2015 onwards was warranted. The decision followed communications about alleged crimes including killings, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual and gender-based crimes, and other widespread violence against civilians and human rights activists.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission established
Burundi established the temporary Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in December 2014 to investigate and establish the truth behind serious human rights violations committed in Burundi from 1962 to 2008, as mandated by the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. The TRC is able to qualify these crimes, publish lists of victims, and propose a programme of reparation and institutional reform.
Civil society organizations have long called on the UN, AU, and EU to facilitate transitional justice in Burundi, including through the ICC system. Faced with the failure of the international community to assume its responsibility to protect and a flawed national justice system, the people of Burundi hope that international justice can help break cycles of impunity in the country.
Coalition members, including the highly active Burundi Coalition for the ICC, urged a coordinated global response to the crisis, which has included assessments by human rights expert bodies like the Committee Against Torture.
Civil society a key player in implementation legislation
Burundian members of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) led the way to the country’s new penal code’s enactment in April 2009. Although it lacks provisions enabling cooperation with the ICC, the code contains comprehensive definitions of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. PGA’s initiative also led to the inclusion of a provision defining the recruitment of children under the age of 18 as a war crime, thus going beyond the Rome Statute’s cut-off age for the crime (15).