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Burundi withdrew from International Criminal Court

11/11/2017 6:00
        Burundi said on Friday
        it will refuse to cooperate with an International Criminal Court
        (ICC) investigation into war crimes prosecutors suspect were
        committed by forces loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza's
        government against their political opponents.
        
        The court ordered a formal investigation on Thursday into
        crimes committed between April 2015 to October 2017.
        
        But experts say it will be hard for ICC Prosecutor Fatou
        Bensouda to gather evidence without support from Burundi's
        government, which last month became the first to withdraw from
        the Hague-based court amid waning support from African nations.
        
        An earlier ICC case in Kenya fell apart due to opposition
        from the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Like Burundi,
        Kenya and South Africa have threatened to withdraw from the
        court, arguing that it disproportionately targets Africans.
        
        "The government rejects that decision (to investigate) and
        reiterates its firm determination that it will not cooperate,"
        said Burundi's Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana.
        
        Unrest has gripped Burundi since Nkurunziza said in April
        2015 he would seek a third term in office, triggering protests
        and a crackdown by security forces.
        
        He won re-election that July but opponents boycotted the
        vote, saying his decision to stand violated the constitution and
        the terms of a peace agreement that had ended a war in the
        central African country.
        
        The ICC says that under international law it still has
        jurisdiction over crimes committed while Burundi was a member.
        
        Judges said Bensouda should investigate whether crimes
        against humanity were committed including murder, torture, rape
        and persecution.
        
        Government forces are suspected to have killed more than
        1,000 people and displaced 400,000 during the crackdown. Human
        rights groups say the number killed could be far higher.
        
        Human rights groups and opposition politicians in Burundi
        welcomed the court's decision.
        
        Charles Nditije, the exiled head of Burundi's opposition
        platform CNARED, called the move "a victory for justice .... for
        those who want the return of peace and rule of law to Burundi."
        
        Armel Niyongere, a Burundian lawyer representing families of
        the victims, said he would assist Bensouda's investigation.
        
        
        
        UPHILL FIGHT
        
        Legal experts said Bensouda may be unable to bring any
        suspects to the Hague as long as Nkurunziza remains in power.
        
        "I suspect that it will be very challenging for the ICC to
        access ... evidence in Burundi" said Berlin-based international
        criminal justice lawyer Angela Mudukuti.
        
        Bensouda's decision was courageous and she will likely seek
        to use evidence obtained by interviewing refugees who have fled
        to neighbouring Tanzania and Rwanda, said Karine Bonneau, a
        senior official at the Paris-based International Federation for
        Human Rights.
        
        "She had very little choice but to open an investigation
        given the gravity of the crimes," she said. Others said the
        prosecution was largely symbolic.
        
        Bensouda's job is in part to deter future crimes, said Thijs
        Bouwknegt, an Africa expert at the Netherlands' Institute for
        War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
        
        "If she acts like some super human rights watchdog and names
        and shames people I think this may be effective," he said.
        



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