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Burundi becomes first country to leave International Criminal Court

An ICC spokesman has confirmed that Burundi's pullout took effect on Friday, a year after the country notified the court of its intention to leave. Some African nations feel the ICC focuses too much on the continent.

Den Haag Internationaler Strafgerichtshof IStGH / ICC (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Beekman)

Burundi has become the first country to pull out from the International Criminal Court after a one-year withdrawal process came to an end.

The country notified former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of its intent to leave the court on October 27, 2016, as one of three countries — along with South Africa and The Gambia — to make such moves last year.

Both South Africa and The Gambia later took back their withdrawals.

The ICC, which was established to prosecute the world's worst atrocities, has said Burundi's withdrawal does not affect the preliminary examination of the country's situation already being undertaken by the court's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

Fatou Bensouda (ICC)

Bensouda is the first African in the position of ICC chief prosecutor

Political turmoil

Burundi, a former German and Belgian colony, has been in a state of deadly political turmoil since 2015, when protests broke out after the ruling party announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third five-year term.

Protests and violence have continued since Nkurunziza was elected to the third term in a disputed election held on July 21, 2015, without the participation of the opposition.

A UN commission of inquiry said last month that crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, were still being committed in Burundi. The commission asked the ICC to open an investigation as soon as possible.

Those implicated in the human rights abuses include top officials in Burundi's National Intelligence Services and police force, as well as military officials and members of the ruling party's youth branch, known as Imbonerakure. The ongoing violence and unrest have forced hundreds of thousands to leave the country.

Pierre Nkurunziza (Imago/photothek/U. Grabowski)

Nkurunziza's third term has proven controversial

Read more:Burundi rejects UN accusations of crimes against humanity

Shielding perpetrators

"Burundi's official withdrawal from the International Criminal Court is the latest expample of the government's deplorable efforts to shield those responsible for grave human rights violations from any kind of accountability," said Param-Preet Singh, Human Rights Watch's associated director of international justice in a statement.

Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Burundi's withdrawal "marks a serious step backwards which risks further isolating the country within the international community."

Burundi's justice minister, Aimee Laurentine Kanyana, however called the ICC withdrawal "a great achievement" toward increased independence, while calling on police and prosecutors to respect human rights so that "white people" would not have "false proofs to rely on in accusing Burundi."

AU call for withdrawal

Many African nations have long accused the court of being biased against Africa, with the overwhelming majority of its investigations targeting the continent. In February 2017, the African Union (AU) called at a summit for a mass withdrawal of member states, but the resolution was not legally binding and was opposed by Nigeria and Senegal.

Following Burundi's withdrawal, a total of 33 African states are now signatories to the Rome Statute that is the foundation of the ICC, among 123 countries worldwide

The United States, along with Israel, Sudan and Russia, have not ratified the statute, while other countries such as China and India have not even signed it.

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