A new report by FIDH and its partner organisations in Burundi draws a troubling picture of the situation in the country today, more than two years after the crisis broke out in April 2015. This report focuses on the ongoing human rights violations and the repressive and dictatorial methods of the Burundi authorities. It also highlights the means used by the regime to impose its authoritarian policy, including the role and increased radicalization of the Imbonerakure militia. The international community needs to respond immediately to this crisis.
On 26 April 2015, the first popular demonstration against the Burundi president’s announcement to run for third term was violently repressed. This marked the beginning of a cycle of violence that gradually led to a campaign to systematically eliminate all opposition, alleged or real. In two years, more than 1,200 people may have been killed. There may have been between 400 and 900 victims of forced disappearance, several hundred or even thousands of people tortured, and over 10,000 people arbitrarily detained. More than 400,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. These violations, some of which could amount to international crimes, remain unpunished.
Following a mission of inquiry in Burundi, FIDH and the ITEKA League published, in November 2016, a report that warned about the “genocidal dynamics” of the current repression . Although it is almost impossible for independent observers – especially NGOs and journalists – to access Burundi’s territory, the report presents an alarming picture of developments that have occurred over the last few months.
All components of the State and of civil society are subjected to the same repression, orchestrated by a regime obsessed with retaining power at all cost. The political landscape is shrinking down to one party, the CNDD-FDD, whose discourse is increasingly bellicose and paranoid. The independent media are censored or blocked. The political opponents are systematically tracked down, persecuted, often killed. Human rights defenders and independent journalists are silenced. The purge and elimination of army troops contributes to political and ethnic tension within this body that is already deeply divided.
The Imbonerakure militia, whose role in the repression has grown considerably, is still spearheading the regime. The videos released in April and May 2017 showing dozens of members singing songs encouraging the rape of the women of the opposition were taken up by the media, for once. But the report shows that this is not an isolated case but an example, among others, of the militia’s ideological radicalisation. This ideological conditionning is coupled with increased training, militarisation and structuring of the Imbonerakure militia. A law adopted by the National Assembly in December 2016 could give the Imbonerakure the status of a reserve force, despite the fact that these troops are responsible for serious human rights violations (especially murders, rapes, forced disappearances, torture) that could amount to international crimes.
In this context, our organisations call upon the international community to recognise the gravity of the situation in Burundi. Our organisations are urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open as soon as possible an investigation into the crimes within its jurisdiction committed in Burundi since 2015 in order to identify and prosecute the main perpetrators, to prevent other crimes and to obtain justice and reparation for the victims. Our organisations also urge the African Union and the United Nations to join forces to:
• establish a protection mechanism for civilian populations, in compliance with the recommendations of this report;
• resume the political dialogue process, at a deadlock for the past two years;
• impose an arms embargo;
• adopt new individual sanctions targetting Burundi officials and all individuals contributing to the violence and/or preventing the resumption of the political dialogue process.
In April 2015, President Nkurunziza ran for a third term of office. The international community and many Burundian felt that this was illegal and against the spirit and the letter of the Arusha Agreement that had ended the civil war that started in the 1990s (1993-2005), and that killed close to 300,000 people.
Since 25 April 2015, large popular demonstrations have been brutally repressed, killing at least 80 people. Following an attempted coup, the crack down on demonstrators, political opponents, media and civil society organisations seriously increased. In September and November 2016, the United Nations and several civil society organisations, including FIDH and the ITEKA League, warned about the deterioration of the situation, and the risk of perpetration of mass crimes , and even genocide. They called upon the international community to react, in particular by deploying United Nations and African Union troops to protect the civilian population, and called upon the ICC to open an investigation. At end of 2016, the Burundi government suspended its cooperation with the United Nations.