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 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, including rape and sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture. 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. More than 370,000 refugees remain in neighboring countries.
Violations and abuses of human rights have primarily been carried out by the National Intelligence Service and police. The CoI's August 2018 report highlighted the personal role of President Pierre Nkurunziza in fomenting serious human rights violations amidst a pervasive climate of impunity. The CoI also raised concern regarding the role played by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, in human rights abuses. In his November 2018 report on Burundi the UN Secretary-General warned that ongoing systematic human rights violations contribute to a "climate of intimidation in the country."
During December 2018 the British Broadcasting Corporation published a special investigation regarding the existence of at least 22 secret government detention facilities across the country where alleged dissidents are tortured as part of what witnesses call an "orchestrated program to eliminate opposition." According to former national intelligence officers, the disappearance and death of alleged opponents has been approved by the highest state authorities.
The crisis in Burundi developed following the April 2015 announcement that President 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 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 government has banned most independent non-governmental organizations, curtailed independent media and repressed the political opposition. The National Intelligence Service, police and Imbonerakure have committed extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture of individuals suspected of belonging to the political opposition, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity.
The government has refused to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the HRC and the International Criminal Court (ICC). In addition to public threats directed at members of the CoI, in April 2018 the government also expelled a team of UN experts. During December 2018 the government ordered the closure of the UN human rights office in Bujumbura. The ongoing hostility directed towards UN mechanisms, institutions and experts is a disturbing indication of the government's unwillingness to engage with the international community and adhere to its obligations under International Human Rights Law.
While international attention on the crisis has decreased since the May 2018 constitutional referendum, the government continues to commit widespread human rights abuses and violations.
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 UN Security Council (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 action by the UNSC.
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 and called upon the government to ensure accountability. 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 2018 the European Union renewed travel bans and asset freezes on four Burundians for serious human rights violations, obstruction of democracy and incitement to violence.
It remains essential that Burundi's government ends the violent targeting of political opponents, civil society organizations and independent media. The HRC-mandated CoI on Burundi should be granted immediate access to investigate alleged violations and abuses of human rights. The government should refrain from any further threats directed at the Commissioners.
The government should also engage constructively with the mediation efforts led by the EAC and collaborate with OHCHR and HRC mechanisms. 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: 15 January 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.