Populations at Risk
Populations in Burundi face a risk of potential mass atrocity crimes as systematic human rights violations and abuses continue.
Ongoing violations and abuses of human rights leave populations in Burundi 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 may have been committed in the country since April 2015, including sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.
Violations and abuses of human rights have primarily been carried out by the National Intelligence Service and police, sometimes in collaboration with the Imbonerakure, the youth wing 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 assassinations and grenade attacks in Bujumbura.
More than 1,200 people have been killed in politically inspired violence since April 2015 and more than 10,000 Burundians have been arbitrarily detained. Approximately 430,000 refugees remain in neighboring countries.
The crisis 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 and protest violence, President Nkurunziza was reelected during July 2015. The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate between the government and opposition parties, but talks have stalled.
On 17 May a controversial national referendum approved the government's draft changes to the constitution, which will allow President Nkurunziza to potentially run for office for another two seven-year terms and provide an opportunity to abolish ethnic quotas within the government. The referendum was preceded by a violent campaign against perceived critics of the president, and opposition groups have denounced the outcome. On 27 June the CoI on Burundi reported that some opponents of the referendum faced torture and execution "amid a continuing environment of threats and intimidation."
The government has severely limited the space for political debate by banning independent non-governmental organizations, curtailing independent media and repressing the political opposition. While the government has reported that 73 percent of voters were in favor of the constitutional amendments, numerous reports of killings, arrests, physical violence, intimidation and harassment of perceived opponents highlight the tense political environment.
The government's refusal to cooperate with the UN Security Council (UNSC), the HRC's CoI, 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 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 26 October 2017.
On 29 July 2016 the UNSC passed Resolution 2303, authorizing UN police to monitor the security and human rights situation. The government of Burundi refused to accept the monitors. One year later the UNSC adopted a Presidential Statement expressing the Council's intention to pursue targeted measures against those who threaten the peace and security of Burundi. There has been no subsequent diplomatic action.
On 30 September 2016 the HRC created the CoI to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi. On 29 September 2017 the HRC extended the mandate of the CoI for another year, despite the refusal of the government to allow the Commissioners to enter Burundi.
In the aftermath of the May referendum, it remains essential that the Burundian government deescalate tensions, end the violent targeting of political opponents and avoid any further ethnicization or militarization of the conflict. The HRC-mandated CoI on Burundi should be granted immediate access to investigate alleged systematic and widespread violations and abuses of human rights.
The government should engage constructively with the mediation efforts led by the EAC and collaborate with OHCHR, the HRC and UNSC. The UNSC 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: 16 July 2018
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.