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How to exit the International Criminal Court – a step by step process

How to exit the International Criminal Court – a step by step process


Burundi has set itself on the path to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC), after 18 years of association with the international justice outfit.

The country led by the president Pierre Nkurunziza, will be making history by being the first country to quit. Africa has been battling with the ICC since 2013 with threats of withdrawal. Burundi is the most serious case yet.

Step 1 – Who can exit the ICC?

Only a State can withdraw from the ICC. A parliament or a political party cannot opt out of the group.

In the particular case of Burundi, the cabinet agreed and sent a draft bill to Parliament and it was overwhelmingly approved. Burundi as a State party has fulfilled step one of the exit process.

Step 2 – When and How?

Officially inform the United Nations Secretary General. A country (in this case) burundi must write formally to inform the UN chief of their desire to withdraw from the ICC.

Step 3 – When?

According to the rules, the State Party will have to wait for a year to elapse before they can claim to have left partially.

Step 4 – Out but …

After the year passes, the country will have exited the ICC but they still have to pay any fees owed the body as well as for cases involving their citizens will also be pursued.

Article 127 of the Rome Statute spells the process out as follows:

1. “A State Party may, by written notification addressed to the Secretary General of the United Nations, withdraw from this Statute. The withdrawal shall take effect one year after the date of receipt of the notification, unless the notification specifies a later date. 
2. “A State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute, including any financial obligations which may have accrued.

Its withdrawal shall not affect any cooperation with the Court in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings in relation to which the withdrawing State had a duty to cooperate and which were commenced prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective, nor shall it prejudice in any way the continued consideration of any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.”

African threats to quit ICC in the past

As many as four African countries have threatened to quit the ICC in the past. Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and now Burundi – they have taken the most concrete step yet to quit.

In September 2013, a Kenyan parliamentary vote supported the government’s motion to withdraw from the ICC. The country remains a member till date and high profile cases against the President and his vice, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Rutto were all dismissed this year.

Then came South Africa, the rainbow nation mooted the idea of dropping its ICC membership following it’s highly controversial failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during a recent African Union summit in Johannesburg.

On the eve of al-Bashir’s arrival in South Africa, the ICC issued several calls for his arrest to the South African government. It’s in light of this that Jeff Radebe, minister in the presidency, announced that South Africa is reconsidering its participation in the ICC.
South Africa and Kenya are joined by Uganda as the third African nation to threaten to quit the ICC. In mid-December, 2014 Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni announced his intention to mobilise African leaders to quit the ICC. During his swearing in early this year, Museveni described the ICC as a bunch of useless people who he no longer supported.

Even though Uganda is a State Party, they invited Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who is wanted by the court on charges of war crimes.