Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree on Tuesday for his country to quit the International Criminal Court, after parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to withdraw.
The letter, published in the presidency’s website, said the decision would “come into immediate effect”.
This makes Burundi the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court, which had said it would investigate recent political violence there. No country has ever withdrawn from the ICC, which prosecutes cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
President Pierre Nkurunziza approved the law after it won lawmakers’ overwhelming support last week, the presidency said on Twitter.
Burundi’s decision to quit the ICC follows a bitter dispute with the international community over the human rights situation in the East African country. More than a year of deadly violence has followed Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to pursue a third term, which some have called unconstitutional.
Observers say a withdrawal from the ICC takes effect a year after the day the U.N. secretary-general is formally notified of a country’s intention.
Burundi’s decision to withdraw has alarmed the international community.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby has said withdrawing from the ICC would “isolate Burundi from its neighbors and the international community at a time when accountability, transparency and engaged dialogue are most needed.”
Some African countries have threatened a withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, accusing the court of disproportionately targeting the continent. The treaty had 124 member states before Burundi’s move.
Only Africans have been charged in the six cases that are ongoing or about to begin, though preliminary ICC investigations have been opened elsewhere in the world.