Burundi: HRW Releases Stinging Report on Abuses, Calls for Holding Govt to Account

Regional leader tried – and failed – to mediate between the government, led by President Pierre Nkurunziza, pictured, and the opposition.

Burundi is facing at further global isolation after Human Rights Watch released a stinging report on rights abuses there.

The report by the HRW tells of how ruling party youths have carried out dozens of beatings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and killings against real and suspected political opposition members, and called on the UN Security Council to increase scrutiny and impose targeted sanctions.

This comes soon after Burundi's application for membership of the Southern African Development Community trade bloc was rejected while Bujumbura continues to have problems in the East African Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa in which it is a member.

SADC chair, Namibian President Hage Geingob had announced that Burundi did not meet the bloc's admission requirements after the latest assessment.

Closer home, President Nkurunziza has missed most of the EAC Heads of State Summits since 2015 and, late last year, the absence of a Burundian delegation torpedoed the 20th Summit in Arusha.

Released in Nairobi on June 12, the report says that a campaign by the youth belonging to the ruling Forces for the Defence of Democracy known as Imbonerakure -- against people perceived to be against the ruling party has continued since the May 2018 constitutional referendum.

GROWING VIOLENCE

It says that the abuses have increased since the registration of the opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL) in February. CNL is a breakaway faction led by Agathon Rwasa, whose leadership at the National Liberation Forces (FNL) has been in dispute.

"The alarming violence is fuelled by the impunity that prevails in Burundi, and the cases we documented are likely only the tip of the iceberg. Local administrators and Imbonerakure members are terrorising the population with almost no scrutiny, due to the absence of independent media and civil society," said Lewis Mudge, HRW Central Africa director.

The researchers found that local authorities continue to put intense pressure on people to join the ruling party ahead of Burundi's 2020 presidential election, especially in rural areas. The youth league and local administrators have responded to the registration of the new opposition party with rampant abuses, facing virtually no consequences, in at least eight of the country's 18 provinces.

HRW conducted 33 interviews by phone with victims, family members, and witnesses in Bubanza, Cibitoke, Gitega, Karusi, Kirundo, Muramvya, Muyinga, Ngozi, and Rumonge provinces, as well as the capital, Bujumbura, between February and May. In May, researchers also interviewed 30 refugees who left Burundi after the May 2018 referendum.

It documented at least three killings, four disappearances, and 24 arbitrary arrests of real or perceived CNL members in eight provinces of Burundi since January 2019. In addition, HRW documented three killings and one disappearance in the aftermath of the May 2018 referendum.

"The number of victims is probably much higher, but Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the dozens of additional credible allegations it received, since the government did not respond to a letter sent on June 3, 2019 seeking clarification on whether authorities are investigating these abuses and holding those responsible to account," the report said.

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