Ongoing violations and abuses of human rights leave populations in Burundi 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 may have been committed in the country since April 2015, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and rape.
Violations and abuses of human rights have primarily been carried out by the National Intelligence Service and the police, sometimes in collaboration with the Imbonerakure, the youth wing and de facto militia of the ruling party, Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie–Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD). Opposition elements have also been accused of assassinations and grenade attacks in Bujumbura.
More than 1,200 people have been killed in politically-inspired violence since April 2015, while an unknown number of individuals have been the victims of enforced disappearances. An estimated 430,000 Burundian refugees remain in neighboring countries and almost 200,000 Burundians have been internally displaced. The majority of displaced Burundians are children under the age of 18. Humanitarian appeals remain severely underfunded, leaving hundreds of thousands of Burundians without protection and assistance.
The initial crisis developed following the April 2015 announcement by the CNDD-FDD that President Pierre 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 and 2005. Following a failed coup and protest violence, President Nkurunziza was elected for a third term during July 2015.
President Nkurunziza has suggested he may run for a fourth term in 2020 and has appointed a 15-member commission to propose draft amendments to the constitution. The constitution, based on the Arusha Peace Agreement, currently restricts presidential term limits and sets ethnic quotas for state institutions. On 24 October the Burundian government approved draft changes to the constitution, which would allow incumbent President Nkurunziza to potentially run for office for another two seven-year terms. The referendum of the draft constitution is scheduled for May 2018.
During 2016 the government undertook steps to isolate itself from the UN and AU. The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate between the government and opposition parties, but talks have stalled. The fourth inter-Burundian dialogue, which took place between 27 November and 8 December 2017 in Arusha, Tanzania, failed to address the roots of the political crisis, and was boycotted by exiled opposition parties and civil society activists.
Recurring political and ethnic conflict have previously resulted in mass atrocity crimes in Burundi. Incitement to violence, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings have contributed to a climate of fear. Despite the precarious security situation and ongoing serious violations of human rights, the government has repeatedly called for Burundian refugees to return.
The government's refusal to cooperate with the UN Security Council (UNSC), the HRC's CoI, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a disturbing indication of its unwillingness to engage with the international community and adhere to international law. In addition, the government has publicly announced its desire to "bring to justice" the authors of the report of the CoI, threatening the safety and security of independent investigators mandated by the HRC.
The government is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Burundians, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation.
On 25 April 2016 the ICC announced its preliminary examination into the situation in Burundi. On 18 October 2016 President Nkurunziza initiated Burundi's withdrawal from the Rome Statute, which came into effect during October 2017. Prior to their withdrawal the ICC opened an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi from April 2015 until 26 October 2017.
On 29 July 2016 the UNSC passed Resolution 2303, authorizing up to 228 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 diplomatic action.
On 30 September 2016 the HRC created the CoI to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi. On 29 September 2017 the HRC extended the mandate of the Commission for another year, despite the refusal of the government to allow the Commissioners to enter Burundi.
On 28 September 2017 the HRC also adopted a Burundi government-supported resolution requesting OHCHR to dispatch a team of three experts to support the judicial authorities of Burundi to collect information and ensure accountability for violations of human rights.
Practical steps must be taken by the government and opposition to avoid any further militarization and ethnicization of the conflict. Allegations of systematic human rights violations and abuses must be credibly investigated and perpetrators held accountable.
The government should engage constructively with the political dialogue led by the EAC and collaborate with the UNSC, OHCHR and HRC. The CoI should be permitted to enter Burundi to conduct its mandated investigation. The UNSC and the international community 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 2018