CIVICUS

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Burundi

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Last updated on 21.12.2017 at 07:51

Burundi-Overview

Space for civil society and citizen activism has been almost totally destroyed following a government crackdown in 2015 when citizens protested against the incumbent president’s bid for a third term. Many ordinary civilians and civil society activists have been killed, police have repeatedly used excessive force against protestors and detainees have been brutally tortured.

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Human rights defender arrested as International Criminal Court opens investigation

Human rights defender arrested as International Criminal Court opens investigation

On 21st November, police arrested human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga in Gitega, after searching his home early in the morning. Police confiscated his cell phone and documents related to his work with Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH).

As reported previously on the Monitor, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi concluded on 4th September that it had reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi since April 2015 and asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the alleged human rights abuses in the country.

On 9th November, the ICC in The Hague announced its decision to open an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Burundi between 26th April 2015 and 26th October 2017. While Burundi withdrew from the ICC on 27th October, the decision to investigate was made two days prior to the withdrawal, allowing the court to exercise its jurisdiction over the period when Burundi was still a state party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. The Court will initiate a probe into the deaths of more than 1,000 people, as well as cases of torture, rape and enforced disappearances allegedly committed by state agents such as the Burundian National Police, national intelligence service, units of the Burundian army, and the youth wing of the ruling party known as the Imbonerakure. Burundi’s Justice Minister Laurentine Kanyana publicly decried the decision, saying his country has no obligation to the ICC, and that Burundi will not cooperate. Minister Kanyana further claimed that the country’s judiciary is capable of and competent in investigating and prosecuting crimes in the country. The Burundian Coalition for the ICC, among others, has expressed concerns that the authorities in Burundi could erase evidence and eliminate witnesses, and therefore requested additional funds and support for the protection of victims and potential witnesses still present in the country.

Association

On 21st November, police arrested human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga in Gitega, after searching his home early in the morning. Police confiscated his cell phone and documents related to his work with Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH). The police have suggested that the possession of such documents could justify a charge of "threatening national security", as reported by Front Line Defenders. 

Nibitanga served as the principal human rights observer in Central-East Burundi for APRODH until it was deregistered in 2016, along with a host of other organisations. According to a statement from Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l'Homme, Nibitanga was being held in the headquarters of the Service National des Renseignements in Bujumbura before being transferred to Rumonge prison on 4th December. 

Association in Burundi

Burundian civil society grew in size and influence after the mid-1990s and made important contributions to deepening democracy, including during free and fair elections in 2005 when the civil war ended.

Burundian civil society grew in size and influence after the mid-1990s and made important contributions to deepening democracy, including during free and fair elections in 2005 when the civil war ended. As a consequence of its influence, organised civil society has been one of the main targets of the government’s latest crackdown. In 2016, the authorities continue to harass, arrest, brutalise and in some cases detain, kill or cause the disappearance of civil society leaders as well as individual activists (including students) who took part in the anti-third term demonstrations in April 2015. Following the attempted assassination of prominent human rights defender Pierre Claver Mponimba in August 2015, two members of his family were brutally murdered. In November 2015, the government froze the bank accounts of fourteen prominent CSOs, including several human rights organisations, a move which has seriously impeded civil society’s ability to conduct human rights monitoring and advocacy. As a climate of fear prevails, many civil society leaders have been forced into exile in order to avoid arrests, violent attacks and assassination attempts. Enforced disappearances of human rights defenders are also a concern. For example, Marie-Claudette Kwizera, treasurer of a prominent human rights organisation, Iteka League, was allegedly abducted by the National Intelligence Services on 10 December 2015 and remains unaccounted for.


Peaceful Assembly in Burundi

Even though article 30 of Burundi’s constitution protects the right to peaceful assembly, public demonstrations in Burundi have become almost impossible in the wake of the sustained use of excessive force by security forces.

Even though article 30 of Burundi’s constitution protects the right to peaceful assembly, public demonstrations in Burundi have become almost impossible in the wake of the sustained use of excessive force by security forces. Peaceful demonstrations in April 2015 against an extension of the president’s mandate sparked a brutal assault by police on demonstrators, during which they were recorded using live ammunition, shooting people at point blank range and even shooting demonstrators in the back as they ran away. Other threats to the freedom of assembly come from a regressive public gatherings law which prevents spontaneous gatherings, and impunity for frequent assaults on demonstrators by non-state actors, including by the ruling party’s youth wing Imbonerakure.


Expression in Burundi

Prior to the crackdown on free media in 2015, Burundi’s World Press Freedom Ranking was already a lowly 142nd, having been as high as 72nd a decade earlier.

Prior to the crackdown on free media in 2015, Burundi’s World Press Freedom Ranking was already a lowly 142nd, having been as high as 72nd a decade earlier. In a clear violation of constitutional protections, the government has stamped out most if not all independent journalism in Burundi through the closure of radio stations and attacks on individual journalists. As traditional media have been closed off, reporters have formed a new online reporting collective, SOS Médias Burundi which continues to provide reports on human rights violations within the country through social media channels. With Internet penetration at just 1.4%, for most Burundians news other than state propaganda is hard to access.


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