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 UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi has found that potential crimes against humanity have been committed since April 2015. More than 1,200 people have been killed in politically inspired violence since then and 10,000 Burundians have been arbitrarily detained. More than 352,000 refugees remain in neighboring countries.
Violations and abuses of human rights, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture of suspected dissidents, 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 and warned that possible crimes against humanity continue to be committed. In March 2019 the CoI warned that the climate of impunity was encouraging the ongoing persecution of political opponents, as alleged perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes are still occupying key positions within the security forces and the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party.
During December 2018 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) published a special investigation regarding the existence of at least 22 secret government detention facilities across the country where 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 government opponents has been approved by the highest state authorities. On 29 March the government banned the BBC from Burundi.
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, 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 police, National Intelligence Service and Imbonerakure 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.
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 (OHCHR), HRC and International Criminal Court (ICC). In addition to threats directed at members of the CoI, in April 2018 the government expelled a team of UN experts. 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 29 July 2016 the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed Resolution 2303, authorizing UN police to monitor the security and human rights situation. Despite the government's refusal to accept the monitors and the Council announcing its 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. 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 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.
The government should engage constructively with the mediation efforts led by the EAC and fully commit to an inclusive dialogue to end the political crisis. The EAC, together with other international stakeholders, should support measures to ensure safe, peaceful and transparent elections in 2020.
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 May 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.