Burundi | International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity


The International Criminal Court authorised a full investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by Burundian authorities and nationals within and outside the country, ruling that the Court can exercise jurisdiction notwithstanding Burundi’s withdrawal from the Court. 


In a decision on 25 October 2017, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was authorised by the ICC Chamber to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed in Burundi between 26 April 2015 and 26 October 2017. Importantly, it may, under certain conditions, extend its reach to crimes committed before 26 April 2015 and after 26 October 2017.

In her statement the ICC Prosecutor stressed the appropriateness of the authorisation being made under seal - it is necessary ‘in order to protect the integrity of the investigation and the life or well-being of victims and potential witnesses in the Situation.’

The Chamber decided there was reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity. The charges include murder and attempted murder, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, and persecution. However, if it is found that other crimes occurred, the Prosecutor may extend the investigation to encompass them as well.

‘We welcome the authorisation of the investigation by the ICC, which follows the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi that there is reason to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.

‘The findings of UN human rights experts are vital to the defence of human rights globally; but the international community must support their mandates. We were disheartened to witness no State defended members of the Commission of Inquiry when Burundi threatened them with prosecution following the presentation of their report to the General Assembly,’ added Openshaw. ‘The silence of all States - including those who were central in establishing the Commissions’ mandate - leads you to question their commitment to protecting those defending human rights nationally.’

The ICC investigation comes at a critical juncture. On 26 October 2017, Burundi notified the Court of its withdrawal from the ICC, which came into effect the following day. This made Burundi the first country ever to leave the ICC. Under the circumstances, the Chamber concluded that the Court can exercise jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed during Burundi’s membership in the Court (that is until 26 October 2017). This also means that Burundi is obliged to cooperate with the Court for the entirety of the investigation. According to the ICC, ‘Burundi accepted those obligations when ratifying the Rome Statute.’

‘To ensure justice for victims, it is imperative that Burundi cooperates fully with the ICC, and that the international community encourages such cooperation,’ said Openshaw.

Through our #BurundiOut Campaign, ISHR continues to call for the suspension of Burundi from the Human Rights Council. In light of the ICC’s investigation, the findings of – and threats to - the Commission of Inquiry, and Burundi’s lack of cooperation with UN mechanisms and special procedures, it is clear that Burundi’s seat on the Council threatens the credibility of the UN’s premier human rights body.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, Head of New York Office of ISHR, e.openshaw@ishr.ch, +1 929 426 7679

Photo: Eric Bridiers via  the UN US Mission.



  • Africa
  • United Nations
  • Third Committee of the UN General Assembly
  • Burundi