POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.
In a statement issued on May 8, 2015, the ICC Prosecutor expressed concern about “the growing tensions in [Burundi] and reports that violence ahead of the [forthcoming] elections may escalate, which could lead to the commission of serious crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.” She warned that “[a]ny person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence, including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing in any other manner to the commission of crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction is liable to prosecution before the Court.” She advised that “[her] Office, in accordance with its mandate under the Rome Statute, will be closely following developments in Burundi in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or resort to violence.”
As discussed in our previous post, the ICC Prosecutor proactively expressed similar concerns about elections to be held in Nigeria, warning that her Office stood ready to investigate election-related violence in that country that might provide for ICC jurisdiction.
Subsequently, reports indicated that the Nigerian elections proceeded reasonably well. Reuters reported that “[d]espite some technical glitches and the killing of more than a dozen voters by Boko Haram gunmen, the election has been the smoothest and most orderly in Nigeria’s history.” In her May 8 statement, the Prosecutor commented on the Nigerian election and stated that “[t]he recent elections in Nigeria have shown how commitment to peaceful elections by the electoral candidates can prevent mass violence.” While it cannot be determined at this time whether the Prosecutor’s statement in advance of the Nigerian elections contributed to a reasonably peaceful outcome, it may well have done so.
The Prosecutor’s statement about Burundi represents a further step in pursuit of her Office’s policy, articulated in the November 2013 Policy Paper on Preliminary Examination, to “issue public, preventive statements in order to deter the escalation of violence and the further commission of crimes.” Her statement regarding Nigeria addressed a situation in which her Office had previously commenced a preliminary investigation. Although Burundi, as Nigeria, is a State Party to the ICC Statute, the Prosecutor has not as yet opened an investigation into matters in Burundi. Accordingly, the Prosecutor’s May 8 statement represents a further initiative to also perform early warning function in line with the OTP’s prevention efforts.