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ICC launches probe into Burundi crimes despite exit

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has decided to launch an investigation into atrocities committed in Burundi, despite the country’s pullout from the international body last month.

ICC judges authorized the tribunal to open an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi or outside the east African country, ICC said on its website on Thursday.

The alleged crimes include murder, rape and torture, which started in 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term, which he succeeded.

“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, it said, have reportedly resulted in the displacement of 413,490 persons between April 2015 and May 2017.

Judges issued the authorization on Oct. 25, two days before Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC.

The Burundi investigation is the 11th full-scale investigation by the ICC. Almost all the investigations are in Africa, prompting some of the countries to exit the international body.

Government defiant 

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her investigation found proof suggesting police and security forces, “acting pursuant to a state policy, carried out a deliberate attack against the civilian population.”

The attacks, she said, entailed “multiple acts of murder, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, enforced disappearance and persecution, constituting crimes against humanity.”

Burundi remains obliged to cooperate with her investigation, despite the country’s withdrawal from the ICC, she added.

The Burundian government remained non-committal, saying the country would not be helping with the investigation.

“We are no longer a state member,” Burundi Government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba said. “They can do whatever they want, they can take all initiatives they want, Burundi will not cooperate because we stopped collaboration.”

Forgotten crimes

International human rights groups voiced support for the ICC’s decision, saying the probe would help deliver justice to victims and the people whose rights had been violated.

The probe “signals that ICC withdrawal does not shield a government from scrutiny about its role in grave human rights violations,” said Param-Preet Singh, the group’s associate international justice director.

Earlier this year, a UN commission of inquiry report based on interviews with more than 500 witnesses revealed that crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, were still being committed in Burundi.

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