Human Rights at Stake: Burundi


The Rwandan Genocide took the lives of 500,000 to 1,000,000 people in 1994. Though more related to political corruption rather than an ethnic divide, the mass human rights violations in Rwanda’s neighboring nation Burundi is just as grotesque and unjustified.

On April 26, 2015, Brudundians gathered at the streets Bujumbura, the capital, in protest against President Nkurunziza’s third term bid for re-election, a violation of Brudundi’s consitution. On the same day, Jean Nepomuscène was shot by a police officer after returning from church for “(raising) his arms in the air between the dissenting districts of Ngagara et Mutakura.” Jean wasn’t the last student to die. 24 year old Justin Kwigomba, friend of Jean, fled to Rwanda after he was targeted by the Imbonerakure (the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD, the ruling party). Notorious for gang rape, torture, and murder, the Imbonerackure is just one part of the systemic human rights violations conducted by the government today. The Report of the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) states that the “gross human rights violations (in Burundi) amount to crimes against humanity.” According to the UN Human Rights Office, 564 cases of executions have been verified between 2015 and 2016, and have been initiated without proper due process of law. International Business Times (IBT) elaborates on other findings.

The use of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against opponents. Ill-treatment included attaching weights to testicles, crushing of fingers and toes with pliers, detention in a closed container, forcing families to stay next to the dead body of a relative, forcing the victim to sit on acid, broken glass or nails, gang rape of a mother in the presence of her children, injections of a yellow liquid in the testicles and other parts of the body leading to paralysis, knife and machete stabs, lashes using preheated electric cable or iron bars, progressive burning with a blowtorch or gas cylinder, progressive electrocution, pulling a cord attached to the testicles, tightly tying a person’s arms in the back for several days, insults and humiliating speech, including an ethnic dimension, poking of fingers in the eyes of the victim, tying the victim up by the feet upside down (known as “Amagurizege” in Kirundi)

Alarmingly, the UNIIB report warns that “no one can quantify exactly all the violations that have taken place and that continue to take place in a situation as closed and repressive as Burundi during the period covered by UNIIB’s mandate.” The situation is ever more dangerous as the conflict has a potential overspill effect into other regions. The UNIIB investigators note that “(they) are gravely concerned about the general trend of ethnically divisive rhetoric by the government, as well as others, which may carry a serious potential of the situation spiraling out of control, including beyond Burundi’s borders.”

Nevertheless, the ruling party and the president have denied all allegations. Though, witnesses include 12 upper echelon members of the government’s security forces, the President’s Communications Chief Willy Nyamitwe has recently tweeted that “@UNHumanRights did not respect the usual rules by releasing the report without the response of @BurundiGov.” Though Burundi government has tried to corroborate its claims by setting up commissions of inquiry, the recent UNIIB report has claimed that the government has “blatantly (failed)” to investigate.

In November of 2015, the UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the violence in Burundi. The UNIIB has stated that “if the violations continue and the Government continues to fail to prevent abuses, invocation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the UN to deploy a force to restore international peace, may be necessary.” Aljazeera reports that “the experts urge the Burundian government, the AU, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council and other international actors to take a series of robust actions to preserve the achievements made in the Arusha Accord and in the 2005 Constitution.”


Written by Han Sung Lim



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