A lawyer representing families of victims of killings and torture in Burundi has condemned the government's intention to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC). First Vice President Gaston Sindimwo confirmed on 6 October that the government had "sent to the national assembly a draft law for adoption ... to withdraw from the ICC".
The authorities' decision comes less than a year after the ICC's prosecutor, Fatou B. Bensouda, said it would investigate alleged violations "by the government and people whose actions can be attributed to the government" amounting to crimes against humanity.
What is an ICC preliminary examination?
Sixty Burundian families of the victims of alleged extra-judicial executions officially mandated a group of lawyers to bring cases to the ICC.
A preliminary examination is not an official investigation, but a process of examining the information available in order to decide whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation under the Rome Statute.
There are no timelines provided in the Rome Statute for a decision on a preliminary examination.
While the ICC prosecutor usually awaits the approval of local authorities before opening a preliminary examination, prosecutor Fatou B. Bensouda has started the process without it, after reviewing reports of a number of alleged crimes committed in the country since the start of the crisis a year ago.
Bernard Maingain, one of the three lawyers representing the families of victims of alleged extra-judicial executions, exclusively told IBTimes UK: "To end up in this situation, a huge wave of panic is sweeping among the leaders in Bujumbura.
"We have information from reliable sources that if there is such a wave of panic it is because they envision being seriously incriminated, so this is like an admission of guilt.
"We would like to remind Burundi's leaders and Burundians that the ICC today has been properly presented with facts and that no withdrawal plan – such as that considered by Burundi's government – will allow them to elude their responsibilities."
Burundi: ICC withdrawal 'to be really free'
Sindimwo said in comments broadcast on state-run radio: "We found that it was necessary to withdraw from that organisation so we can really be free."
During another official meeting, one of the items discussed was a draft law revising a 2003 law that Burundi ratified to be a signatory of the Rome Statute of the ICC, according to Reuters.
In Maingain's view, however, these revisions "will have no legal impact".
According to the Rome Status Article 127, an ICC member state may, by written notification addressed to the secretary-general of the United Nations, withdraw from the ICC. A withdrawal takes effect one year after the date of receipt of the notification, unless the notification specifies a later date.
The bloody crisis that has killed up to 900 people, pits supporters of President Pierre Nkurunziza against those who say that his re-election in July 2015 for a third term violated the nation's constitution.
After a failed coup, the government intensified its crackdown and most of those arrested or disappeared today are young men and women accused of participating in or supporting opposition groups, including armed groups whose attacks have also left dozens dead.
Several African states, which form the majority of the 124-strong ICC membership, have announced their intention to pull out of the court, as they say all the 23 cases the ICC are investigating are in Africa – something they perceive as being biased towards the continent.