Youth militias target fledgling opposition parties


On 28th March 2019, ACAT-Burundi published findings detailing the critical tardiness and lack of will from the judiciary in processing the judicial files of political prisoners, which is in violation of Article 38 of the Constitution. The investigation revealed that the files of the detainees, and especially those involving crimes of a political nature, are treated excessively slowly and in bad faith. In four prisons (Mpimba, Gitega, Rumonge and Muramvya), 41 prisoners who were acquitted, 109 who benefited from the presidential pardon and 52 prisoners who had served their prison sentences were all still in prison, while 60 cases had not progressed.

In mid-April 2019, an audio recording surfaced of an alleged senior police officer delivering a message to the government’s political opponents: “If you want to disrupt security, I’ll finish with you there, and if you’re with your wife and children, you’ll go together.” The threats were aimed at Burundi’s new opposition party members, the Congrès National pour la Liberté (National Congress for Freedom, CNL). According to the party’s spokesperson, more than 130 members of the fledgling opposition CNL were arrested and tortured between March and April 2019. As previously documented, despite their party being approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs in February, members continue to be harassed by Imbonerakure militias, the youth league associated with the ruling party - the National Council for the Defense of Democracy - Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), for allegedly holding unauthorised meetings. A police officer in Bujumbura recently spoke to Human Rights Watch and mentioned that when local administrative officials identify supporters of the CNL, they are rapidly arrested and accused of participating in “illegal” meetings. According to him, members of the Imbonerakure are orchestrating these arrests. Reports published by local monitoring groups suggest this is a widespread practice. Members of the CNL state that intimidating messages are used as a way to systematically eliminate or frighten their members

In early April 2019, the Belgian NGO 11.11.11 decided to close its local office in Bujumbura, stating that applying the government’s controversial ethnic hiring quotas contradicted their core values, given the history of ethnic tension in the country. Other international NGOs like Avocats Sans Frontières, RCN/Justice et Démocratie and Handicap International similarly shut their offices in the country following the introduction of ethnic hiring quotas and strict government control over international organisations in October 2018.

In a separate incident, on 10th May 2019, president of the Burundian branch of the Adventist Church, Pastor Lamec Barishinga, was arrested along with Pastor Lambert Ntiguma. Earlier in May, 21 members of the church were arrested when Barishinga refused to give up his post to his predecessor Pastor Joseph Ndikubwayo, who has the support of the Minister of the Interior. For over six months, the Burundian Government has harassed and abused the Adventist church by imprisoning and intimidating its leaders and members.

On 16th May 2019, Burundi’s Supreme Court ordered the seizure of assets belonging to politicians, human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists who are in exile, and military officers who are serving life sentences for their involvement in the 2015 coup d’etat. Those affected had all mobilised to oppose a third term for president Pierre Nkurunziza in 2015. This is seen as a tactic to scare those who are opposed to a fourth term of President Pierre Nkurunziza. 

Peaceful Assembly

Burundi’s opposition parties continue to face challenges and restrictions to the freedom of peaceful assembly.

On 10th March 2019, 17 members of the CNL opposition political party were arrested in Bukemba, in Rutana province, during the opening ceremony of the party headquarters, and released the following day. The party President called on authorities to stop harassing their members, stating that they will be protected by the law and that they are working to ensure that the law is respected.

On 18th April 2019, police fired a shot that hit and injured Jervais Ndayajemwo while they were trying to arrest Audace Ikoriciza, a member of the CNL party who was prosecuted for organising illegal night meetings. As the police were unable to arrest Ikoriciza, they later arrested his father and a woman in the same area whose husband is also suspected of holding illegal meetings. Their families called for their release denouncing the arrests as unjustified.

On 21st April 2019, a violent clash between government and opposition youth supporters left two dead. Imbonerakure militias attacked several youths from the opposition CNL and Sahwanya Foredebu parties in Butihinda commune in Muyinga province, accusing them of being in contact with an armed group from a neighbouring country. Some of the CNL youth had been alerted about the impending attack and went into hiding. Among them was Riverien Kwizerimana, president of the Frodebu party in his area, who later said he was considering going into exile after his wife was attacked and injured by the Imbonerakure youth.

In a separate incident, on 25th March 2019, the administrator of the Nyabiraba commune, Bujumbura division, issued a statement forbidding girls from going out past 18:00. This decision was taken a week after the administrator of the Giteranyi Commune in Muyinga Province took a similar decision. The measures allegedly aim to fight pregnancies in schools, but put undue restrictions on the free movement of women and girls.


Justice Minister Aimée Laurentine Kanyana announced on 26th March 2019 that three girls who were detained for doodling on the President’s face in their textbooks would be freed. The Justice Minister however added that they were mature enough to face justice as they were over 15 years old. The schoolgirls' detention led to international condemnation of the Burundian government, with critics showing their support for the girls on social media. The schoolgirls were charged on 18 March with "insulting the head of state" and faced up to five years in jail if they were convicted.

On 29th March 2019, Burundi banned the BBC and indefinitely suspended Voice of America (VOA), in a blow to press freedom. The National Communication Council (CNC), the country's media regulator, revoked the BBC’s licence and accused it of airing a documentary that it said was false and damaged the country’s reputation. It extended an existing suspension on VOA, accusing it of employing a reporter who opposed the government. On 2nd April 2019, the U.S. State Department called on Burundi to rescind its decision to suspend VOA and ban the BBC and to allow journalists to operate freely in the run-up to elections in 2020. In early May, Anastase Hicuburundi, the commissioner in charge of electoral operations and litigation of the National Independent Electoral Commission called for independent media to be barred from covering the presidential polls in 2020.

On 5th April 2019, a defamation suit filed by President Pierre Nkurunziza against Belgian lawyer Bernard Maingain, Burundian writer David Gakunzi, and France 3 TV channel in connection with a report on Burundi that aired in 2016, was rejected by a Paris Criminal Court