War crimes court opens preliminary probe into Burundi crisis

Agence France-Presse
War crimes court opens preliminary probe into Burundi crisis
An ICC prosecutor says she had been following events since April 2015 when Burundi was thrown into turmoil by President Pierre Nkurunziza's announcement that he would run for a third term

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court said Monday, April 25, she was opening a preliminary probe into violence in Burundi, which has been engulfed in a deep political crisis for a year.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had been following events closely since April 2015 when the central African country was thrown into turmoil by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term.

She said she had “repeatedly called upon all involved to refrain from violence, warning that those alleged to be committing crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court could be held individually accountable”.

Her office had reviewed reports “detailing acts of killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as cases of enforced disappearances,” she said in a statement.

“All these acts appear to fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC,” she said, referring to the tribunal based in The Hague and set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes.

“I have decided therefore to open a preliminary examination into the situation in Burundi since April 2015.”

The initial probe is aimed at determining whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a full-blown investigation by ICC prosecutors which could result in drawing up charges against those believed to be responsible for the violence.

Burundi will be the eighth preliminary probe under way at the ICC, while a full investigation has been opened into bloodshed in a further 10 countries.

Nkurunziza won his third term as president in the July 2015 election with subsequent violence leaving hundreds of people dead, while hundreds of thousands have fled.

ICC prosecutors believe in Burundi “more than 430 persons were reportedly killed, at least 3,400 people have been arrested and over 230,000 Burundians forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries,” Bensouda said.

The opposition, as well as civil groups and some of Nkurunziza’s own supporters, accuse him of violating the constitution and the Arusha peace deal that ended Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war.

New civil war?

In a sign of the continuing violence, a Tutsi general and security advisor to the vice president was killed Monday in an attack by heavily-armed men in the capital Bujumbura, security sources said.

General Athanase Kararuza was dropping his daughter off at school in the northeastern Ghosha district, the high-ranking security source said. Kararuza, his wife and daughter were killed in the attack.

Kararuza, who had also served as deputy commander of an African Union-led peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic until late last year, had been recently named as advisor to Vice President Gaston Sindimwo, also a Tutsi.

An estimated 300,00 people died in the civil war pitting the then Tutsi-dominated army against Hutu rebels. Under the Arusha peace deal, there must be strict parity between the two ethnic groups.

But Robert Besseling of Exx Africa, a specialist intelligence company, warned that a year into the crisis, the country stood on the brink of a new civil war.

“Rival sides in the conflict have become entrenched and violence has become more brutal,” he said in a statement.

“In fact, in many ways, a civil war has already begun given the ethnic tinge to the most recent violence, especially in the countryside.” – Maude Brulard, AFP/Rappler.com

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