Populations at Risk
Populations in Burundi face a risk of potential mass atrocity crimes as ongoing human rights violations and abuses continue to destabilize the country.
Ongoing violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi leave populations at risk of mass atrocity crimes. The UN Secretary-General's February 2017 report on Burundi notes that frequent killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and torture continue in Burundi. Many of these crimes have been directed at the political opposition and members of the former armed forces. Violations and abuses of human rights have primarily been carried out by state agents and those linked to them, including the Imbonerakure, the youth militia of the ruling party Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD).
Since April 2015 at least 1,000 people have been killed in politically-inspired violence and over 406,000 people have fled Burundi. Members of the Burundian army and police, and the CNDD-FDD, have also been assassinated in suspected reprisal killings.
The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate the conflict but talks have stalled due to the government's refusal to engage with opposition members with existing arrest warrants. During 2016 the government also undertook steps to isolate itself from the international community, including by rejecting a UN Security Council (UNSC)-mandated police force and initiating its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The crisis developed following the April 2015 announcement by the CNDD-FDD that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third presidential term. This was regarded by many as violating the 2000 Arusha Peace Agreement, which ended a civil war that claimed over 350,000 lives between 1993 and 2005. During May 2015 elements of the army undertook a failed coup attempt, which further increased government repression. President Nkurunziza was elected for a third term during July 2015.
President Nkurunziza has suggested he may run for a fourth term in 2020. On 12 May 2017 the government-appointed National Commission for the Inter-Burundian Dialogue claimed in its final report that the majority of Burundians support ending presidential term limits. The government has since appointed a 15-member commission to propose draft amendments to the constitution.
Recurring political and ethnic conflict have previously resulted in mass atrocity crimes in Burundi. Incitement to violence, as well as enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial arrests and killings, have contributed to a pervasive climate of fear.
Within this already unstable environment, the government's apparent willingness to amend the constitution to end presidential term limits is of grave concern. The government's refusal to cooperate with the UNSC, Commission of Inquiry for Burundi, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and ICC is also a disturbing indication of its unwillingness to adhere to international law and collaborate with international institutions.
The Burundian government must take urgent steps to reengage with the international community, and uphold its Responsibility to Protect its population regardless of political affiliation or ethnic identity.
On 25 April 2016 the ICC announced its preliminary examination into the situation in Burundi. On 18 October President Nkurunziza initiated Burundi's withdrawal from the Rome Statute.
On 29 July 2016 the UNSC passed Resolution 2303, authorizing up to 228 UN police to monitor the security and human rights situation. In a press statement on 13 March 2017, the UNSC expressed its concern about the government's lack of cooperation regarding the Resolution, which has not been implemented.
On 30 September 2016 the UN Human Rights Council passed Resolution 33/24, creating a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015. The government has refused to cooperate with the Commission.
On 18 April 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep alarm over the Imbonerakure's incitement to violence, especially rape, stating that these actions "ring very loud alarm bells."
Immediate steps must be taken by the government and opposition to avoid further militarization and ethnicization of the current political conflict. The Imbonerakure should be disarmed and disbanded. Allegations of human rights violations and abuses must be subject to independent investigation and perpetrators held accountable.
The government should engage constructively with the political dialogue led by the EAC and collaborate with the UNSC, OHCHR and Commission of Inquiry. The government should also reconsider its withdrawal from the ICC.
In light of the government's refusal to implement Resolution 2303, the UNSC should impose targeted sanctions against all actors who threaten the peace and security of Burundi.
The African Union (AU) should impose targeted sanctions as decided by its Peace and Security Council on 17 October 2015, and work with the Burundi government to ensure the full deployment of AU human rights observers and military experts, as was endorsed in Resolution 2303.
Last Updated: 15 June 2017