The International Criminal Court launch of preliminary investigations into post-election killings in Burundi has triggered threats from the country on reconsideration of membership to the Rome Statute.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Nyamitwe said ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had not taken into account the principle of complementarity, where national courts are given the first priority to investigate the killings that have taken place in Burundi since April last year.
The principle of complementarity states that national courts are empowered to investigate and punish perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide and that the ICC can only investigate if the national courts are not able to, or if the UN Security Council asks for its participation.
Mr Nyamitwe said Burundi is yet to decide on its membership of the ICC but “should the ICC not respect what the African Union has been asking for, then we have no choice but to follow what others in the continent have come up with as an alternative.”
Members of the African Union have backed a Kenyan proposal to push for withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, saying it unfairly targets the continent.
The African Union made a resolution to reject the trials of sitting heads of state and senior government officials at the ICC and has instead proposed to expand the jurisdiction of the Arusha-based African Court of Human and People’s Rights to include international crimes.
Ms Bensouda recently warned that those alleged to be committing crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC could be held individually accountable.
Since violence erupted in April last year following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term, more than 400 people have been killed and thousands have fled the country. International human-rights organisations have accused Burundi security forces of carrying out targeted killings of presumed opponents of the president’s third term.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is currently wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in the province of Darfur. Because 34 out of Africa’s 54 countries have signed the Rome Treaty establishing the court, ICC supporters say they are obligated to apprehend President al-Bashir. However, he recently visited South Africa and Uganda, and neither of them arrested him.
Meanwhile, former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa — who is the facilitator of the inter-Burundi dialogue — said the talks were the only option to resolve the crisis.