Burundi’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday in favour of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, amid a deepening row over political violence in the East African country.
Only two lawmakers voted in favour of staying under the jurisdiction of the Dutch-based ICC, while 94 voted against and 14 abstained. Pro-government lawmaker Gabriel Ntisezerana said the court was “a political tool used by powers to remove whoever they want from power on the African continent.”
Earlier this year, the ICC opened a preliminary investigation into Burundi, focusing on acts of killing, imprisonment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as enforced disappearances.
Burundi’s government was infuriated last month after a U.N. report named officials accused of orchestrating the torture and killing of political opponents. Since then, Burundi has banned three U.N. investigators from its territory and rejected a U.N. decision to set up a commission of inquiry to probe the violence, which began last year after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to seek a third term in office.
Opponents said his rerun violated the constitution and a peace agreement that ended a civil war in 2005. The opposition mostly boycotted the polls and Nkurunziza won a third term.
The ICC said in April that political violence had killed around 450 people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
The bill to remove Burundi from the court’s jurisdiction will proceed to the upper house of the legislature and then be signed by the president, triggering a withdrawal process that will last a year.
Opposition lawmaker Fabien Baciryanino, who favoured staying under ICC jurisdiction, saying withdrawing was “no more, no less, than inciting the Burundian people to commit more crimes”.
Since it was set up under the 1998 Rome Statute, the court based in The Hague has focused on prosecuting four main crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Its heavy focus on Africa has stirred a backlash against the court from countries such as Kenya and South Africa.