As the new dates set for parliamentary and presidential elections approach in Burundi (26 June and 15 July 2015), civic freedoms should be restored says CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
“The police are continuing to use live ammunition against protesters unhappy with the decision by President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for a third term,” said David Kode, Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS. “An atmosphere of fear wherein democratic freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are imperilled does not set the stage for a free and fair election.”
At least 40 people have been killed, including an opposition leader, and more than five hundred detained since the start of the protests. The whereabouts of many of those in detention remain unknown. The ongoing violence has forced many human rights activists and journalists to go into hiding and others have fled the country to avoid attacks from the authorities. Major opposition groups argue that the new dates set for the elections are not feasible because of the ongoing restrictions and attacks on freedom of expression and assembly.
The protests in Burundi began on 26 April 2015 following an announcement by the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy party (CNDD-FDD) confirming the President availability to run for re-election. Protesters and international authorities argue that the President has served two terms and any attempt to stand again violates the Burundian constitution and the Arusha Peace Accords signed at the end of the civil war in 2005. The protests intensified after the Constitutional Court ruled on 5 May 2015 that President Nkurunziza can run for another term. More than 100,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.
Some private radio stations including Radio Publique Africaine have been shut down and a blackout on social media websites, particularly those suspected of enabling the organisation of protests has been imposed by the authorities. Police and members of the ruling party have attacked the premises of radio stations and destroyed journalists’ equipment.
Members of the youth wing of the ruling party - the Imbonerakure continue to issue hateful threats against protesters and those they perceive to be opponents of the regime. Government officials have also warned protesters that they will be treated as accomplices to a failed coup that took place on 13 May 2015. Live bullets are being used to disperse demonstrators and key protest hotspots are being cleared by the authorities.
CIVICUS calls on the African Union and members of the international community, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands to increase pressure on the government of Burundi to stop the violent crackdown on peaceful assembly and respect the legitimate aspirations of citizens.