Burundi

Less than a year ahead of Burundi’s presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in 2020, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) concluded in its report, released on 4 September, the existence of a climate of fear and intimidation of all persons who do not show their support to the ruling party, CNDD-FDD.1 Members of the party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, agents of the National Intelligence Service, police, and local authorities continue to commit serious human rights violations against citizens.

Freedom of Association

In mid-April 2019, an audio recording surfaced of an alleged senior police officer delivering a message to the government’s political opponents: “If you want to disrupt security, I’ll finish with you there, and if you’re with your wife and children, you’ll go together.”3 The threats were aimed at Burundi’s new opposition party members, the Congrès National pour la Liberté (National Congress for Freedom, CNL). According to the party’s spokesperson, more than 130 members of the fledgling opposition CNL were arrested and tortured between March and April 2019.4 Despite their party being approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs in February 2019, members continue to be harassed by Imbonerakure militias for allegedly holding unauthorised meetings.

In early April 2019, the Belgian NGO 11.11.11 decided to close its local office in Bujumbura, stating that applying the government’s controversial ethnic hiring quotas contradicted their core values given the history of ethnic tension in the country.

On 10 May 2019, president of the Burundian branch of the Adventist Church, Pastor Lamec Barishinga, was arrested along with Pastor Lambert Ntiguma. Earlier in May, 21 members of the church were arrested when Barishinga refused to give up his post to his predecessor Pastor Joseph Ndikubwayo, who has the support of the Minister of the Interior. Over the past year, the Burundian government has harassed and abused the Adventist church by imprisoning and intimidating its leaders and members.

Burundi suspended the country’s last independent civil rights group, PARCEM (Word and Action for Awakening Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities) accusing the organisation of “disturbing peace and public order.” PARCEM’s activities “are suspended” indefinitely, according to a document signed by the Ministry of Interior, on 3 June 2019.

On 17 July 2019, the Burundian Court of Appeal of Ntahangwa deliberated on the case of HRD Germain Rukuki, confirming his sentence of 32 years in prison. The deliberation took place in a public hearing without Germain and his defence being notified. On 22 July, six days after the decision was issued, they were finally informed. 44 international and local NGOs have strongly condemned the conviction against Germain Rukuki upheld on appeal and have called for his immediate and unconditional release.10

Two opposition party members were killed on 11 July 2019, while in police custody. According to civil society groups and independent media, the two men were killed by a police officer in front of a crowd in Gihanga commune, Bubanza province. Police denied this version and accused the two men of having belonged to a group of “bandits” who threatened the region for months and killed police officers.

In August 2019, the government called on opposition members in exile to return to Burundi and take part in 2020 general elections. Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo made this announcement after members of the CNARED, an alliance of opposition leaders in exile, expressed their intention to return.

Opposition party CNL said more than 20 of its offices across the country have been vandalised between March and August 2019 and allege that perpetrators went unpunished or were arrested and later freed without charges.

Freedom of Expression

On 5 April 2019, a defamation suit filed by President Nkurunziza against Belgian lawyer Bernard Maingain, Burundian writer David Gakunzi, and France 3 TV channel in connection to a report on Burundi that aired in 2016, was rejected by a Paris Criminal Court. In July 2019, the BBC closed its office and operations in Burundi until further notice, after efforts to resolve issues with the authorities failed.15 In March 2019, the government banned BBC transmissions and anyone in the country from providing information to the BBC, after accusing it of airing a documentary damaging the country’s reputation.
Dozens of protesters demonstrated in Bujumbura on 8 June 2019 against “Western media” blamed for giving a platform to the political opposition. Radio France Internationale (RFI), TV5 Monde, and Le Monde were specifically targeted.17 These outlets conducted an interview with Marguerite Barankitse, a human rights activist living abroad and opposed to the Burundian regime. In a press release issued on 3 June 2019, the Conseil national de la communication (CNC) accused Radio RFI of airing unbalanced information in the interview with Barankitse, as she testified to the human rights violations committed in Burundi and denounced the weak reactions from African States and the international community. The CNC then indicated that it will carefully analyse the professional misconduct committed by RFI and promised to impose sanctions against it. On 3 July 2019, Eric Nshimirimana, head of the ruling party youth league accused of atrocities, was appointed by President Nkurunziza to lead its state-run broadcaster, in a move decried by opposition parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) as a blow to freedom of the press and to victims of abuse perpetrated by the Imbonerakure.
On 22 July 2019, on the third anniversary of the disappearance of Jean Bigirimana, an investigative reporter for the independent news website Iwacu, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the government to carry out DNA tests on two bodies that were found shortly after his disappearance.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On 18 April 2019, police fired a shot that hit Jervais Ndayajemwo while trying to arrest Audace Ikoriciza who was prosecuted for organising illegal night meetings. Later, police arrested Ikoriciza’s father and a woman in the same area whose husband is also suspected of holding illegal meetings.21

A violent clash between government and opposition youth supporters left two dead on 21 April 2019. Imbonerakure militias tied to the ruling CNDD-FDD party attacked several youths from the opposition CNL and Sahwanya Foredebu parties in Butihinda commune in Muyinga province.22

At least one person was killed, and 10 others wounded after fighting occurred between members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party and those of the CNL opposition party in Mubimbi commune on the nights of 25 and 27 August.23

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Ahead of elections, the UN keeps a spotlight on human rights in Burundi

The UN Human Rights Council (“Council”) has decided to keep a spotlight on Burundi ahead of key elections scheduled for 2020. Today, the Council adop­ted a resolution that extends the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for one year and condemns a wide range of human rights violations and abuses, a move which DefendDefenders welcomes.