Burundi has officially withdrawn from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
An ICC spokesman said the withdrawal would be effective as of Friday, a year after the country notified its intention to leave the criminal court amid accusations that the court focuses more on the African continent.
In 2016, President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree allowing the withdrawal from the ICC. It came after the country’s lawmakers approved a bill on the said withdrawal.
Burundi becomes the first country to leave the ICC. Opposition parties have criticized the move.
Last year, several leaders on the continent had asked African Union members to withdraw from the ICC, claiming the court’s prosecutors were mainly targeting African leaders.
Unrest in Burundi crisis started in April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced his candidacy for a controversial third term.
Since then, more than 400 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled the country to seek refuge in neighboring states within the East African region, mostly in Rwanda.
The ICC had accused Burundian senior intelligence officials, police forces, military officials and members of the ruling party youth league of committing crimes in the country.
Right groups including Amnesty International have condemned Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC.
”The Burundian government has made a cynical attempt to evade justice by taking the unprecedented step of withdrawing from the ICC,” Matt Cannock, Amnesty International’s head of international justice said in a statement.
”But perpetrators, including members of the security forces, cannot so easily shirk their alleged responsibility for crimes under international law committed since 2015,” he added.
He said that the ICC will continue its investigations regardless of Burundi’s efforts to stop its work by withdrawing from the Court.
”Even if President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government will not cooperate with the court, the ICC has ways and means to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed,” Cannock added.