Ongoing violations and abuses of human rights leave populations in Burundi at risk of mass atrocity crimes. The UN Secretary-General's February 2017 report on Burundi noted that frequent killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture continue. The Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has found that potential crimes against humanity may have been committed in the country since April 2015.
Violations and abuses of human rights have primarily been carried out by the National Intelligence Service and the police, sometimes in collaboration with the Imbonerakure, the youth wing and de facto militia of the ruling party Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD). Opposition elements have also been accused of perpetrating grenade attacks in Bujumbura.
According to local civil society groups, more than 1,200 people have been killed in politically-inspired violence since April 2015, while an unknown number of individuals have been the victims of enforced disappearances. Over 400,000 Burundian refugees remain in neighboring countries and almost 200,000 Burundians have been internally displaced.
During 2016 the government undertook steps to isolate itself from the UN and AU. The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate between the government and opposition parties, but talks have stalled. The Forces Populaire du Burundi, a rebel group located in the DRC, has vowed to increase armed attacks against the government.
The initial 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. Following a failed coup and protest violence, President Nkurunziza was elected for a third term during July 2015. President Nkurunziza has suggested he may run for a fourth term in 2020 and on 12 May he appointed a 15-member commission to propose draft amendments to the constitution. The constitution, based on the Arusha Peace Agreement, currently restricts presidential term limits and sets ethnic quotas for state institutions.
Recurring political and ethnic conflict have previously resulted in mass atrocity crimes in Burundi. Incitement to violence, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings have contributed to a climate of fear and insecurity. Within this already unstable environment, unilaterally amending the constitution could have grave implications.
Despite the precarious security situation and ongoing serious violations of human rights, the government has repeatedly pressed Burundian refugees to return to their country, leaving them at risk of potential mass atrocity crimes.
The government's refusal to cooperate with the UN Security Council (UNSC), the Human Rights Council's Commission of Inquiry, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a disturbing indication of its unwillingness to engage with the international community and adhere to international law.
The government is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Burundians, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation.
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. The government of Burundi refused to accept the monitors. A year later, the UNSC adopted a Presidential Statement highlighting the importance of the Arusha Agreement and expressing the Council's intention to pursue targeted measures against those who threaten the peace and security of Burundi. No progress has been made since then.
On 30 September 2016 the UN Human Rights Council created a Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015. The findings of the Commission include arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and rape, constituting serious violations of human rights. On 29 September 2017, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry for another year, despite refusal of the government to cooperate and allow entry into Burundi for the Commissioners.
On 28 September 2017, the Burundian government supported the adoption of a Resolution requesting OHCHR to dispatch a team of three experts to support the judicial authorities of Burundi to collect information and ensure accountability for violations of human rights.
Immediate steps must be taken by the government and opposition to avoid further militarization and ethnicization of the conflict. The Imbonerakure should be disarmed and demobilized. Allegations of human rights violations and abuses must be investigated and perpetrators held accountable.
The government should engage constructively with the political dialogue led by the EAC and collaborate with the UNSC and OHCHR. The Commission of Inquiry must be allowed to conduct impartial and independent investigations. The government should also reconsider its withdrawal from the ICC.
The African Union should impose targeted sanctions, as decided by its Peace and Security Council on 17 October 2015, and work with the Burundian government to ensure the full deployment of AU human rights observers and military experts. The UNSC and the international community should impose targeted sanctions against all those who threaten peace and security in Burundi, including the list of suspected atrocity perpetrators supplied by the Commission of Inquiry.
Last Updated: 15 October 2017