Burundi is at risk of a new wave of atrocities as it approaches next year’s elections with an unresolved political crisis and a president, who is increasingly portrayed as a “divine” ruler. According to UN Human rights council, the commission concluded in its report that “serious human rights violations including crimes against humanity have continued to take place since May 2018, in particular violations of the right to life, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, sexual violence, and violations of economic and social rights, all in a general climate of impunity.” The targets, it said, were in particular real and suspected opposition supporters, as well as Burundians who have returned from abroad, including under a United Nations-backed voluntary repatriation program, and human rights defenders.
The commission was established in September 2016 to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015, and whether and to what extent they may constitute international crimes. Burundi’s government has refused access to the commission, and, despite evidence to the contrary, it claims the country is stable and peaceful.
At a September 4 news conference, the commissioners described an environment of “‘calm’ based on terror.” Their report highlights that members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, commit abuses against the population across the country and seek “to keep [them] in check and compel their allegiance to CNDD-FDD.” The commission documented cases of disappearances, sexual violence, torture, and ill treatment of Burundians who had recently returned from exile or been repatriated, and found that many repatriated refugees “had the food kits and the money they were given taken from them by Imbonerakure and local administrative authorities.”
The political repression in Burundi has been compounded by growing concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation. According to the World Health Organization there have been over 5 million cases of malaria – almost half the population – and 1,800 malaria-related deaths in Burundi since the beginning of 2019.