Crackdown on civil society continues: UN office ordered to leave, major NGO ceases operations


On 26th November 2018, human rights defender Germain Rukuki's appeal was heard by the Bujumbura Court of Appeal, who afterwards adjourned the case to a later date for judgment. African Union observers were present and no security incidents were reported. As previously documented, Rukuki was arrested and sentenced to 32 years in prison on 26 April 2018, on charges of participation in an insurrectionist movement, undermining state security, and rebellion, in a process that was largely criticised by civil society for violating his right to a fair trial.

On 5th December 2018, the government ordered the United Nations Human Rights Council to shut down its office in the country within two months, demonstrating increasing intolerance to international human right systems. In 2017, Burundi became the first nation to leave the International Criminal Court, and in September 2018 threatened to quit the Human Rights Council altogether after another report pointed to crimes against humanity in the country. 

In a fairly similar incident, on 7th January 2019, following the expiration of the government's deadline ultimatum for NGOs to comply with new laws governing the sector, French NGO Handicap International (HI) announced it would cease its operations in Burundi. According to a press release issued by the organisation, the obligation to record the ethnic composition of its staff and to communicate this information to the authorities constitutes a red line that HI does not wish to cross. As previously reported on the Monitor, in October 2018, the government suspended the activities of all international NGOs active in the country, demanding that the organisations undergo a new registration exercise, and that they adhere to controversial ethnic hiring quotas. In November 2018, the government lifted the suspension of 25 NGOs after they comply with the re-registration requirements.

In positive developments, on 27th December 2018, a Burundian court acquitted three HRDs who had each been handed 10 year jail sentences for undermining state security. Emmanuel Nshimirimana, Aimé Constant Gatore, and Marius Nizigiyimana, members of Parcem - one of the few remaining CSOs in the country, had been planning a human rights workshop when they were arrested in June 2017.


In mid-December 2018, Justice Minister Laurentine Kanyana dismissed a BBC documentary, terming it as a 'fake report' and demanded that the broadcaster pull it down and pay damages to those it slandered. The documentary titled: ‘Inside Burundi’s Killing Machine’ alleges the systematic killing of opposition members by the police and intelligence units in secret torture facilities. The Minister also said that the Burundian government intends to sue the BBC for what they consider is fake investigative reporting.