Burundi’s request to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has elapsed the one year period making the country the first in history to officially withdraw from the Rome Statute.
On October 27, 2016, Burundi presented its letter of intent to the immediate past Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon to begin the one year withdrawal process.
This follows the court’s decision to initiate an investigation into possible war crimes violations related to the violence in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was seeking a third term.
The process of withdrawal from the ICC was also started by The Gambia under exiled former President Yahya Jammeh due to alleged bias by the ICC to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by some Western countries and seeking only to prosecute Africans.
New Gambian President Adama Barrow revoked Jammeh’s withdrawal notice when he assumed office. The African Union called for a mass withdrawal of member states in 2017 at an AU Summit arguing that the court unfairly singles out crimes in the continent for prosecution. The decision, which is not legally binding, was opposed by Nigeria and Senegal.
Kenya and Uganda also threatened to quit the ICC with Zambia launching a nationwide consultative process on whether to leave or stay as a member of the court. 93.3% of Zambians consulted affirmed that the country should remain in the ICC.
South Africa started its withdrawal process in 2016, making it the second country to apply to leave the Rome Statute. A South African High Court, later in 2017, ruled that the government’s move to withdraw from the International Criminal Court was unconstitutional and invalid. The government then notified the United Nations of its decision to reverse an earlier request to pull out from the International Criminal Court (ICC) to adhere to the court’s ruling.
Africa’s argument against the ICC
There was a gradual African disinterest in the court since 2009 when it issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, whose country is not a signatory to the Rome Statute.
The arrest warrant was issued after a referral by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on charges of genocide in Darfur. This was followed by indictments of the former Libyan President, Muammar Gaddafi, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto in 2011 for post-election ethnic violence in 2007-08, based on UNSC referrals. The ICC dropped the charges against Kenyatta in December 2014 and against Ruto in April 2016.
The African Union unsuccessfully called on the UNSC to defer the case against Bashir as it might derail peace and reconciliation efforts in the fragile nation. After rejection of its proposal, the AU asked African states not to cooperate with the ICC on the enforcement of the arrest warrant. This was adhered to by Kenya, Chad and South Africa.
The AU stance created a rift between South Africa and the court in June 2015 when South Africa ignored calls by the ICC and local courts to arrest Bashir who was in the country for an African Union Summit. A South African court subsequently ruled that the government was wrong to have allowed him to leave despite the ICC arrest warrant.
Author: Staff Writer