Alert on Burundi: Downward spiral of violence needs urgent attention

Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, warns of serious consequences due to the continued escalation of violence in Burundi. CIVICUS urges African leaders and the international community to strengthen diplomatic efforts to stem the tide of killings and gross human rights violations in Burundi. Individuals and civil society organisations perceived to oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government are under severe attack.

On 23 November 2015, the Interior Ministry cancelled the licenses of 10 NGOs accusing them of taking part in anti-government activities. The suspended NGOs are banned from all activities pending the finalisation of a decision to review their work. The affected NGOs [1] include Association pour la protection des droit humains et des personnes détenus, headed by human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa who survived an assassination attempt in August 2015 and has had two members of his immediate family, his son and son-in-law assassinated.  Pierre Claver is currently out of the country receiving medical treatment. 

Shortly before the decision was made to ban the NGOs, the Prosecutor General on 24 November 2015 ordered the freezing of the accounts of three major NGOs including Observatoire de l’Action Gouvernementale, BIRATURABA and Association des Juristes Catholiques du Burundi. The accounts of the heads of these NGOs were also frozen. 

A Burundian human rights defender who spoke to CIVICUS anonymously notes that: 

Urgent action is needed to stop the increasing violence and prevent mass atrocities in Burundi. In fact several international partners with offices in Burundi have had to urgently relocate and Belgium has called upon all its nationals to leave amid serious security concerns. The international community should act more decisively to prevent more violence as the government of Burundi has so far ignored all calls to respect human rights. 

So far, more than 240 people have been killed and over 200,000 have fled Burundi since violence erupted in April 2015 after President Nkurunziza announced plans to controversially and unconstitutionally extend his stay in office. More than 3,000 individuals have been arbitrarily detained and have been denied the right to a fair trial. Most human rights defenders and representatives of civil society have fled the country to avoid being targeted by the authorities. The few who remain operate under very restrictive conditions amid increasing security concerns. 

Worryingly, the main perpetrators of human rights violations - the police, security forces, government officials and Imbonerakure, the militant wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD - continue to act with impunity. Several mass graves have been found at different locations and there are reports of members of the ruling party engaged in a systematic campaign to eliminate perceived opponents of the government. Another human rights defender who chose to speak with CIVICUS anonymously notes that: 

Militias have been incorporated into the security forces to silence all opposing voices and the judiciary has been transformed into an instrument of political repression. The suppression of civic space, banning of national and international media and statements made by the authorities which have the potential of inciting all-out violence,  all point to the fact that Burundi is heading towards an abyss if drastic action is not taken to stop these atrocities. 

Targeted extra-judicial killings, torture and arrests have become common in Burundi with senior government officials including the president making provocative and inflammatory statements evocative of similar pronouncements made prior to the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda in 1994.  On 24 October 2015, President Nkurunziza warned those who fled the violence and sought refuge abroad not to “feel they are superior” as they have left behind family members in Burundi.  

In light of the above CIVICUS urges the African Union and the East African Community to facilitate the fact finding mission to Burundi proposed by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as a matter of urgency. CIVICUS also urges African leaders and members of the international community to apply pressure on President Pierre Nkurunziza to immediately stop violations of the rights of his own citizens.



[1] The list of suspended NGOs - Forum pour le Renforcement de la Societé Civile (FORSC), Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE), Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la torture (ACAT), Association pour la protection des personnes détenues et les droits de l'homme (APRODH), Parole et Action pour le Réveil des Consciences et l’Evolution des Mentalités (PARCEM), Amicale des Militaires en Non Activité (AMINA), Fontaine Isoko de la Bonne Governance pour un Développement Integré (FONTAINE-ISOKO), Synergie des Partenaires pour la Promotion des Droits de la Femme (SPPDF), Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP) and Association Maison Shalom (Maison Shalom).