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Burundi wants to quit ICC to avoid possible charges

Pierre Nkurunziza /EPA/LUKAS LEHMANN

Pierre Nkurunziza /EPA/LUKAS LEHMANN

Burundi announced plans Friday to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), a week after the UN began an enquiry into human rights abuses committed since April 2015.

“It is perfectly clear that this is a plot to do harm to Burundi,” said Gaston Sindimwo, Burundi’s vice president, citing European Union “pressure” allegedly exerted on the UN, which opened a rights investigation a week ago.

According to a list seen by AFP, the UN investigation is targeting a dozen members of the governing regime, including General Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, regarded as the second most powerful figure after President Pierre Nkurunziza.

In April, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she was conducting a “preliminary examination” of the situation in Burundi — the first step towards a full investigation and possible prosecutions — looking into allegations including murder, torture, rape and forced disappearances.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said there was evidence of “widespread and systematic” rights violations and a risk of “genocide”.

Echoing similar complaints made by other countries where those in power have been investigated by the ICC, Sindimwo dismissed the court as a “political tool” used to “oppress African countries”.

He said a bill proposing withdrawal from the ICC would be put to parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party. If ratified by parliament, the decision to quit the world court cannot take effect for a year, nor does it halt ongoing investigations.

Burundi’s political crisis began in April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a controversial third term in power, which he went on to win.

Violence since then has killed more than 500 people and driven 270,000 people to leave the country, according to the United Nations.

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