International Criminal Court judges have authorized an investigation into allegations of crimes including murder, rape and torture in Burundi. File picture: Jerome Delay/AP

Bujumbura - The judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have authorised the Prosecutor of the court to investigate the crimes allegedly committed in Burundi since the outbreak of the political crisis in 2015, it said on Thursday.

In a statement, the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber III of the ICC granted Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda permission to extend her investigation to crimes which were committed before April 26, 2015 and continued after October 26.

Burundi announced its withdrawal from the ICC a year ago, and the withdrawal became official on October 27. Burundian authorities have declared that the ICC was no longer allowed to open investigations against Burundi. 

However, the judges explained that the decision was first issued “under seal” on October 25, two days before Burundi's withdrawal was effective.

“The Chamber accepted after ordering the Prosecutor to provide additional information, to conduct the authorisation under seal in order to attenuate risks to the life and well-being of victims and potentially witness”, the statement read.

The Pre-Trial Chamber said that the supporting material submitted by the Prosecutor and the victims offered an “reasonable basis” to proceed with an investigation in relation to crimes against humanity including “murder and attempted murder, imprisonment or severe deprivation of liberty, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and persecution” allegedly committed in Burundi.

The judges estimated that, at least, “1,200 people were alleged killed since 2015, thousands illegally detained, thousands reportedly tortured and hundreds of disappearances while the alleged violence have reportedly resulted in the displacement of 413,490 persons between April 2015 and May 2017”.

They said that Burundi had a “duty to cooperate with the Court” for the purpose of the investigation because it was authorised before the withdrawal became effective.

“This obligation to cooperate remains in effect for as long as the investigation lasts”, said the judges. 

“Burundi accepted those obligations when ratifying the Rome Statute.”

The Government Spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba told reporters that the Burundi government had not yet been notified. He said that even though it would have been notified, the decision remains ICC’s own business and not Burundi’s.

“Whatever ICC would do, [the] Burundi government will not cooperate”, he added.