The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, has 119 State Parties and 32 signatories. Burundi became a State Party on September 24, 2004 when it deposited its instrument of ratification. In 2016, the ICC announced that it was opening a preliminary examination into Burundi based on the Court’s having been monitoring Burundi’s internal situation since early 2015. The focus of the examination is to look into allegations that 430 persons have been killed, at least 3,400 have been arrested and over 230,000 have been forced to seek refuge due to government action. The forthcoming 2016 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities of the Court will bring more detailed summary and overview of the Court’s inquiry.
However, recently, and in line with one of the more frequent criticisms of the Court that it only prosecutes African nationals, Burundi voted overwhelmingly (94 for, 14 abstained, and 2 against) to withdraw from the ICC. The law now needs to be signed by the Burundi President to become effective, potentially making Burundi the first State to leave the ICC.
In response to this development, the President of the Assembly of States Parties issued a statement expressing his concern, as follows:
[t]he withdrawal from the Statue by a State Party would represent a setback in the fight against impunity and the efforts towards the objective of universality of the Statute. I remind that all States Parties have the opportunity to share their concern before the Assembly of States Parties in accordance with the Statute and invite the Burundian authorities to engage in a dialogue.
As discussed in our previous posts, preliminary examination is a stage prior to official investigation. The ICC does not authorize official investigation at the end of every preliminary examination. During the preliminary examination stage, the Court identifies whether the situation meets the Court’s selection and prioritization criteria for opening an official investigation. The Court may decline to proceed to an official investigation for a variety of reasons, such as: a finding that the situation is not grave enough to proceed; a finding that its complimentary jurisdiction should not be invoked because a genuine investigation and prosecution is being carried out by national representatives; or a lack of evidence to support subject matter jurisdiction.
In any case, the preliminary examination in Burundi is likely to continue even if Burundi withdraws from the Court’s jurisdiction, because the withdrawal is not likely to be applied retroactively. However, if Burundi does withdraw, and the investigation moves forward, that withdrawal is likely to make difference during the enforcement and cooperation stages.
- OTP, Policy Paper on Preliminary Examinations (Nov. 2013).