“Burundi rejects this decision from the very outset,” said Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana, a day after the Hague-based court announced the investigation.
Burundi withdrew from the ICC on October 27 — claiming it was biased against Africa — “and was not notified of the ICC’s decision to investigate Burundi before its effective departure,” she said.
As a result, “it is not bound by this decision,” the minister said in a statement read to the press in Bujumbura, the capital.
On Thursday, the ICC revealed that its judges had given the go-ahead for a full investigation into crimes allegedly committed in Burundi from April 26, 2015, to October 26, 2017, which is the day before the country’s exit from the court.
The prosecutor can also widen the probe to acts committed both before and after those dates “if certain legal requirements are met”, and even investigate other atrocities such as suspected “genocide or war crimes,” under the decision.
The period this covers begins with Burundi’s descent into unrest and bloodletting when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was running for a third term in office, winning July 2015 elections which were boycotted by the opposition.
According to estimates, “at least 1,200 people were allegedly killed, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured and hundreds disappeared”, the ICC judges said.
The decision to launch the probe was made on October 25, but was kept under seal to help victims and potential witnesses, according to the ICC.
The Burundian minister lashed the delay and the fact that the decision had been announced through the media.
“This confirms once more the politicisation of human rights and international justice, as well as the attempt to destabilise African countries,” she said.
“In any case, Burundi will never begin cooperation with the ICC for implementing a decision that was taken in violation of the Rome Statute [the treaty that established the ICC] and the principles of international law.”
Armel Niyongere, a member of an international group of lawyers for victims of crimes committed in Burundi, hailed the ICC’s decision.
“The government of Burundi thought it had escaped international justice by withdrawing from the ICC,” he said.
“This is a great victory for the Burundian people.”
Pacifique Nininahazwe, who heads an exiled Burundian group called NDONDEZA, which is probing disappearances, said, “For the first time in the history of Burundi, there is a hope of judgement for massive and serious violations of human rights.
“But this is just a step, because the suffering of the people is continuing through bloody repression.”
According to differing tolls provided by the United Nations or non-governmental organisations, the violence in Burundi has claimed between 500 and 2,000 lives, and more than 400,000 Burundians have fled abroad.