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 leave populations in Burundi 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. Many of these crimes have been directed at the political opposition and their perceived supporters, as well as members of the armed forces. 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 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 more than 1,000 people have been killed in politically-inspired violence while an unknown number of individuals have been the victim of enforced disappearances. Members of the Burundian army and police, and the CNDD-FDD, have also been assassinated in suspected reprisal killings. Opposition elements have also been accused of perpetrating grenade attacks in Bujumbura.
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. 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.
During 2016 the government undertook steps to isolate itself from the UN and African Union (AU). The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate the conflict, but talks have stalled.
President Nkurunziza has suggested he may run for a fourth term in 2020. On 12 May President Nkurunziza appointed a 15-member commission to propose draft amendments to the constitution. The constitution, which is based on the Arusha Peace Agreement, enshrines presidential term limits and ethnic quotas for state institutions, including the army.
More than 418,000 Burundian refugees remain in neighboring countries.
Recurring political and ethnic conflict have previously resulted in mass atrocity crimes in Burundi. Incitement to violence, enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings have contributed to a pervasive climate of fear and insecurity. Within this already unstable environment, an attempt to amend the constitution could have grave implications.
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.
The government must take urgent steps to reengage with the international community and uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Burundians 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. The government of Burundi refused to accept the monitors. A year later, the UNSC adopted a non-binding Presidential Statement on 2 August 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.
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 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 investigated 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.
The 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. In light of the government's refusal to implement Resolution 2303, the UNSC should impose targeted sanctions against all persons or entities who threaten the peace and security of Burundi.
Last Updated: 15 August 2017