Does ICC action already make a difference in Burundi?

07 June 2016 by Benjamin Duerr, The Hague (The Netherlands)

At the end of April, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination in Burundi. As the situation has been deteriorating for the past year with experts fearing the outbreak of a full-fledged civil war, Burundi could become a real-life test for the ICC's ability to deter atrocities. Some argue there is evidence the move of the prosecutor has already had an impact on the conflict.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza talks to the press following a meeting with a UN Security Council delegation that came to reiterate the need for an inclusive dialogue to end months of political turmoil. (Photo: Flickr/ MONUSCO)
Image caption: 
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza talks to the press following a meeting with a UN Security Council delegation that came to reiterate the need for an inclusive dialogue to end months of political turmoil. (Photo: Flickr/ MONUSCO)

When Burundi's ruling party announced president Pierre Nkurunziza as a candidate for a controversial third term in April 2015, Burundians were already stockpiling supplies in case unrest broke out. The small Eastern African nation has experienced decades of violence and civil war and could slide into a new conflict, fear Burundians and foreign observers alike [IJT-183] .

A year after Nkurunziza's announcement that caused waves of violence, Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the ICC, announced she has opened a preliminary examination to establish whether there is a basis to investigate the persons behind the violence. Since the country still stands on the brink of civil war Burundi could become a test for the court's deterrent effect.

“The ICC's watchful eye might make leaders exercise greater caution,” says Geoffrey Dancy, a political scientist at Tulane University in the United States who studied the ICC's deterrent effect in other countries such as the DR Congo, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Kenya and the Central African Republic.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.