Fear and outcry as Burundi votes to leave ICC | First ICC victims’ reparations on the way

The latest in Global Justice news: Burundian national assembly votes to withdraw from Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC); plan for victims reparations against convicted war criminal Thomas Lubanga near completion; ICC to hold first judgment over alleged witness interference’s in the case of Jean-Pierre Bemba; Amnesty International urges chemical weapons investigation into Darfur; UN Refugee Agency condemns violence against civilians by rival militias in Central African Republic; calls for prosecuting war crimes in Syria increase; and much more.

Fear and outcry as Burundi votes to leave ICC

Last week’s vote in the Burundi parliament to begin the process of becoming the first country to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has prompted international outcry and fears of an escalating conflict in the country.

“This vote is a terrible setback to a country that is facing a serious violent and political crisis. It comes at the very moment that thousands of Burundians thirst for fair, effective and independent criminal justice – as demonstrated by the families of victims that broke their silence and seizedthe ICC when their cries for justice were ignored by the national justice system,” said Lambert Nigarura, chairman, Burundi national coalition for the ICC.

Civil society, African parliamentarians, United Nations representatives, and government officials have expressed alarm at the move.

In April this year, the ICC prosecutor opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Burundi to determine whether reports of grave international crimes since April last year warrant the opening of a full investigation.

A range of crimes are alleged to have been committed during the conflict between supporters of President Pierre Nkunrunziza and those who believe that his re-election in July 2015 for a third term violated the nation’s constitution.

United Nations officials have said that violence in the country is in danger of escalating into “atrocity crimes” and raised fears of an ethnic conflict reminiscent of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

While there has been a push among some African countries to withdraw from the ICC, no state has actually done so. This year’s meeting of the African Union in fact saw several states oppose a motion for withdrawal en masse, the first time in many years the regional body had failed to do so. Meanwhile, only this month Gabon asked for ICC assistance with crimes committed in the context of electoral violence.

Under the Rome Statute, full withdrawal comes into effect one year after notification to the UN treaty office. An ICC spokesperson clarified that “ICC [w]ithdrawal does not affect the past obligation of a country to cooperate with any ongoing proceedings or investigation.”

Reaction: Burundi votes to leave the ICC

First ICC victims’ reparations on the way

In March 2012, former rebel commander Thomas Lubanga became the first person ever to be convicted by the ICC – for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conviction triggered the first ICC reparations, which this week saw the start of long-awaited hearings in The Hague.

Because the ICC found Lubanga indigent and unable to cover a complete victim reparations award, the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) proposed spending € 1 million over a span of three years to support affected communities in eastern DRC. The amount is not yet fixed and is subject to change depending on Lubanga’s final financial liability.

The plan, which took four years to reach this stage, outlines that as funds are limited victims will not receive individual reparations as previously expected.

Also raised at the initial hearing was persisting concern over interference in Ituri to deter victims of Lubanga’s crimes from participating in the reparations program.

“Mr Lubanga is currently completing his sentence within the DRC and his return to the country has been highly disturbing for victims of his crimes and presents an additional element with respect to actual or perceived security risks in Ituri and other locations to which victims of his crimes have relocated,” said Brigid Inder, executive director of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (WIGJ). 

Women’s Initiatives, which has monitored the Lubanga case since its early stages and made observations at last week’s hearing, suggested that the TFV’s plan address these concerns and be implemented over a five-year rather than three-year period.

International Criminal Court investigations

Central African Republic: ICC to deliver first judgment in alleged witness-tampering case against former Congolese milia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba on 19 October

Central African Republic II: UN Refugee Agency condemns violence against civilians by rival militias

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Witness claims troops of former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda murdered 30 to 50 civilians in Kobu Town

Uganda: Why one local NGO believes the ICC should reconsider its decision against holding former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen’s ICC proceedings in Uganda

Sudan: Amnesty International urges chemical weapons investigation into Darfur attacks while stating that continued fighting should not derail hybrid war crimes court

Côte d’Ivoire: Ivorians to vote on draft constitution concerning presidential eligibility and establishment of a senate – President says move will end years of instability and conflict

Mali: The role of the ICC in the case of Malian Islamist Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi

ICC preliminary examinations

Colombia: President Juan Manuel Santos extends cease fire with FARC, expresses plans to start peace talks with the National Liberation Army and what the referendum resultsmean for future peace in Colombia

Gabon: Can Gabon investigation hinder political tension between the ICC and Africa?

Campaign for Global Justice

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urge Guinea to take immediate steps to ensure justice for victims of the 2015 presidential election period

Around the world

ICC Prosecutor says situation in Philippines will be closely followed by the Court

Kazakhstan land rights activists on trial

UN Secretary General urges probe into horrific Yemen funeral bombing

Libya forces make final push to clear ISIL from Sirte

France floats ICC war crimes probe in Syria as calls for prosecuting war crimes grows 

Jamaica to account for human rights issues at UN Human Rights Committee conference

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