Burundi: Unprecedented State assault on human rights defenders and journalists

Over the last two days, Burundi’s community of human rights defenders and journalists have borne the brunt of one of the most egregious assaults on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression ever seen in the country’s recent history, said the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project in a statement released today. Burundi State authorities, along with all of Burundi’s bilateral development partners, the African Union, and all branches of the United Nations must take immediate, decisive, and coordinated action to restore peace and the rule of law in the country, and guarantee the rights of all human rights defenders.

On Sunday 26th April 2015, and again on Monday 27th April 2015, many hundreds if not thousands, of Burundian citizens took to the streets of Bujumbura to protest against the decision of the ruling CNDD-FDD party to nominate President Pierre Nkurunziza for a third presidential term in forthcoming elections. President Nkurunziza is constitutionally barred from running for a third term.

As of late on Monday 27th April, a spokesman for the Burundi Red Cross cited by the Associated Press stated that at least six people had been killed in street clashes with the police.

In parallel, Burundian state authorities have mobilised a dramatic and coordinated clampdown on human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists, the scale of which is unprecedented.

On Sunday, at least two government ministries visited the Bujumbura offices of Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and Radio Bonesha, forbidding broadcasts relating to the protests. As of Monday afternoon, state authorities forcibly closed RPA offices in Bujumbura and Ngozi, and EHAHRDP has received widespread credible reports of radio signals being jammed or otherwise disrupted across large parts of the country.

On Monday morning, police forcibly closed the Media Synergy Press Conference that was taking place at Maison de la Presse in Bujumbura.

On Monday morning also, Burundian police re-arrested the internationally renowned human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa in reportedly violent circumstances. Mbonimpa, 67 years old and in poor health, was released from detention on medical grounds in September 2014, after an enormous international outcry. Following his violent arrest on Monday, his detention location was unknown for several hours in spite of a coordinated attempt by civil society activists to locate him. In 2014, Mbonimpa was arrested and charged on entirely baseless charges of ‘endangering state security’. His re-arrest, reported assault by police authorities, and subsequent detention, has sent a chilling message to human rights defenders across the country.

EHAHRDP understands that arrest warrants have been issued against at least two leading members of Burundi’s human rights community. Throughout the course of Monday, EHAHRDP has received and verified reports of human rights defenders being forced into hiding, for fear of arrest, or worse.

The risks facing human rights defenders in Burundi, as well as the wider civilian population, are now at critical proportions,” said EHAHRDP’s director Hassan Shire. “In Nigeria, we have just witnessed the possibility for largely peaceful democratic transition in Africa. The situation in Burundi today is the polar opposite. As a minimum, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa must be immediately released, arrest warrants against other human rights defenders rescinded, radio stations reopened, and state authorities must guarantee an environment conducive to peaceful assemblies”.

EHAHRDP urgently calls on the government of Burundi to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, and rescind all reported arrest warrants issued against other human rights defenders;
  • Immediately and unconditionally allow the reopening of all radio stations, and publicly and explicitly guarantee that the right to freedom of expression will be protected by the government, and all branches of its security and military;
  • Immediately and publicly commit to ensuring the lawful management and policing of legitimate peaceful assemblies across Burundi, and in no circumstances allow lethal or excessive force to be used;
  • Immediately investigate all reports of human rights violations against human rights defenders, journalists, and other Burundian citizens by police and other security agents.

EHAHRDP also calls on Burundi’s bilateral development partners, its trade partners, the African Union, the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights (currently in Session, in Banjul, the Gambia), and all branches of the United Nations to immediately and publicly condemn the actions of the Burundian government and its security forces. Coordinated action must be taken by all stakeholders to support the reestablishment of peace, rule of law, security, and respect for fundamental civil and political rights in Burundi.

For more information, please contact:

Hassan Shire, Executive Director, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on: [email protected] or +256 772 753 753

John Foley, Advocacy & Research Manager, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on: [email protected] or +256 789 650996/ +44 7944 252 894

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