November 9, 2017 / 1:08 PM / a year ago

War crimes court backs Burundi investigation

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court approved a prosecution request on Thursday to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in Burundi by the government and government-linked groups against political foes from April 2015 to October 2017.

The decision follows Burundi’s decision to withdraw from the court as of Oct. 26, 2017. However, the court will still have jurisdiction over crimes committed while Burundi was a member.

A court statement said the country’s government “launched a widespread and systematic attack against the Burundian civilian population... targeting those who opposed or were perceived to oppose the ruling party.”

In a statement, the court said the prosecutor had presented enough evidence of crimes against humanity to merit a formal investigation, including murder, torture, rape and persecution, that led to more than 1,000 deaths.

Unrest has gripped Burundi since the announcement, in April 2015, that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office. He won in July of that year, despite protests that the vote was rigged and that his seeking a third term violated both the constitution and the terms of an agreement that had ended a previous rebellion.

UN rights investigators and independent activists have accused government forces of widespread violations, including forced disappearances, and of orchestrating a campaign of terror. Around 400,000 people have fled to neighboring countries amid the unrest, which has crippled Burundi’s economy.

Reacting to the court decision, top Nkurunziza adviser Willy Nyamitwe tweeted: “The corrupt ICC just shot itself in the foot.”

“This is obviously cheating, but no doubt Burundi will be the winner in this battle. This is the last card of the Western powers,” he said.

Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Gareth Jones

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