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Bensouda warns Burundi

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Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. His announcement to run for another term has sparked protests. Bensouda says she may consider opening investigations in the country if the violence does not stop (Photo/BBC).

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda has warned that she will open investigations in Burundi if the ongoing pre-election violence in the country reaches a threshold that is worth ICC intervention.

In a statement released on Friday May 8, Bensouda reminded Burundi that being a state party to the Rome Statute, her office has an obligation to take action against those responsible in the violence that has seen at least 50,000 people displaced.

“As witnessed in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, electoral competition, when gone astray, can trigger large-scale crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the ICC. In such instances, my Office will not hesitate to open investigations in accordance with the criteria set by the Rome Statute,” the statement from Bensouda partly read.

The Burundi violence started late last month after the President Pierre Nkurunziza who became a President in 2005 announced his intention to vie for another term sparking protests that his time was up. Those against him are citing the Constitution which says one can only run for the Presidency for two terms.  His supporters however feel his first term should not count as he was elected by parliament then.

Bensouda says she will take action against anyone who will found culpable of inciting violence.

“Any person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing in any other manner to the commission of crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction is liable to prosecution before the Court.”

However before her office is involved she wants the national authorities to take the first responsibility to investigate the violence.

“The primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of mass crimes falls, in the first instance, on the national authorities.”

Burundi is not new to violence having gone through genocide in 1972 and 1994. A 12 year civil war in the country only ended in 2005 having claimed the lives of at least 300,000 people. This raises the fear that if the current violence is not stopped it could worsen the situation especially as the general elections get closer.

Bensouda has called upon Burundi politicians to borrow a leaf from Nigeria who have just held a peaceful election.

“Political leaders in Burundi are equally responsible for ensuring the peaceful conduct of elections and that their supporters refrain from violence – before, during and after the elections.”

The country is set to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on 25th May and 26th June respectively. It will be vital for the authorities in the country to see to it that peace is restored.

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