Populations at Risk
Severe repression and persecution of alleged government opponents leaves populations in Burundi at risk of crimes against humanity.
Ongoing violations and abuses of human rights perpetrated by state forces in Burundi leave populations at risk of mass atrocity crimes. The Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi has found that potential crimes against humanity have been committed since April 2015. In a report released on 4 September, the CoI found that ongoing violence against alleged government opponents constitute systematic attacks that have created an environment conducive to the commission of atrocities.
Since the registration of a new opposition party in February - the Congrès national pour la liberté (CNL) – the CoI and human rights organizations have raised alarm about increasing repression. According to the CoI, elections scheduled for 2020 could trigger further violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity. The CoI has found evidence of recent extrajudicial killings and summary executions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, arbitrary detention and torture of suspected dissidents. Such acts have primarily been carried out by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), together with members of the National Intelligence Service and police.
The crisis in Burundi developed following the April 2015 announcement 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 1993-2005. Following a failed coup, widespread protests and violence, President Nkurunziza was re-elected during July 2015. The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate between the government and opposition parties, but with little success.
The Imbonerakure, police, National Intelligence Service and local government officials continue to commit serious human rights violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity. Despite President Nkurunziza's announcement that he would not run for an additional term in 2020, the current political environment is not conducive to holding free and fair elections. Organized violence and public threats by senior officials against suspected opposition members constitute early warning signs of potential mass atrocity crimes.
The ongoing hostility directed towards UN mechanisms and institutions is a disturbing indication of the government's unwillingness to engage with the international community. The government has refused to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, HRC and International Criminal Court (ICC), and has openly threatened members of the CoI. On 28 February 2019 the government announced the permanent closure of the UN human rights office in Bujumbura. The government has also banned most independent non-governmental organizations and media outlets.
The government is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect all Burundians, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation.
On 18 October 2016 President Nkurunziza initiated Burundi's withdrawal from the Rome Statute, which came into effect during October 2017. Prior to withdrawal, the ICC opened an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi from April 2015 until October 2017.
On 30 September 2016 the HRC created the CoI to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi. During 2018 the CoI compiled a list of alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity. On 27 September 2018 the HRC extended the mandate of the CoI despite the refusal of the government to allow the Commissioners to enter Burundi.
On 25 October the European Union renewed travel bans and asset freezes on four Burundians for serious human rights violations, obstruction of democracy and inciting violence.
It remains essential that Burundi's government end the violent targeting of political opponents, civil society organizations and independent media. The HRC-mandated CoI on Burundi should be granted immediate access to the country and its mandate should be renewed during the Council's current 42nd session.
The EAC should intensify mediation efforts and, together with the African Union (AU) and UN, support measures to ensure free and fair elections in 2020. The AU should increase the number of human rights observers deployed in the country and reinstate the High-Level Delegation to Burundi.
The UN Security Council should invite the CoI to brief the Council and should impose targeted sanctions against all those who continue to threaten peace and security in Burundi, including the list of suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity supplied by the CoI.
Last Updated: 15 September 2019
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Burundi has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the July 2015 issue.