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 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 sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.
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 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 and more than 10,000 Burundians have been arbitrarily detained. Approximately 430,000 refugees remain in neighboring countries.
The crisis developed following the April 2015 announcement 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 reelected during July 2015.
On 24 October 2017 the Burundian government approved draft changes to the constitution that would allow President Nkurunziza to run for office for another two seven-year terms and would provide an opportunity to abolish ethnic quotas within the government. A referendum on the draft constitution is scheduled for 17 May. Government security forces and CNDD-FDD supporters have been engaged in a campaign of violence and intimidation against those who oppose the changes.
On 11 May unidentified armed men attacked villagers in the northwest province of Cibitoke, killing 26 people.
The East African Community (EAC) has attempted to mediate between the government and opposition parties, but talks have stalled.
Systematic human rights violations have contributed to a climate of fear. The government has severely limited the space for political debate by banning independent non-governmental organizations, curtailing independent media and repressing the political opposition.
The government's refusal to cooperate with the UN Security Council (UNSC), the HRC's CoI, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a disturbing indication of its unwillingness to engage with the international community and adhere to international law.
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 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 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 CoI for another year, despite the refusal of the government to allow the Commissioners to enter Burundi.
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, including violence linked to the 17 May referendum, must be credibly investigated and perpetrators held accountable.
The government should engage constructively with the mediation efforts led by the EAC and collaborate with the UNSC, OHCHR and HRC. 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 2018
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.