Burundi election countdown amid ‘deteriorating’ human rights situation

© UNHCR/Farha Bhoyroo A young Burundian refugee completes an exercise on a blackboard at Jugudi Primary School in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, Kigoma Province, north-west Tanzania. (February 2019)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Two months ahead of Burundi’s planned local and presidential elections, senior UN-appointed independent rights investigators have urged the Government to reopen the “democratic, civil and political space” there.

“These are not only basic human rights, they are also an absolute requirement for the holding of free, transparent and credible elections in a peaceful climate”, said a statement from the Commissioners leading the official Geneva-based Commission Inquiry on Burundi (COIB) during an oral briefing to the UN Human Rights Council on 9 March.

The Commission reiterated its warnings that the situation in Burundi continues to worsen – politically, economically as well as in terms of security.

Of particular concern are the Imbonerakure – members of a youth league linked to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s ruling party – and to multiple attacks against opposition politicians and their families.

They have continued to carry out “killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, acts of torture and ill-treatment and rape against actual or alleged political opposition members”, the Commissioners warned.

‘Voluntary’ repatriation?

In addition to widespread impunity for crimes, the investigators also described a worsening humanitarian situation inside and outside the country.

“The humanitarian situation remains worrying, with 336,000 Burundian refugees in neighboring countries and some being returned in circumstances where the ‘voluntary nature’ is questionable,” said Commissioners.

In 2015, President Pierre Nkunrunziza announced that he would seek a third term, reportedly seen by many Burundians as a breach of the constitution, and which led to political unrest and an upsurge of violence in the country, leaving hundreds dead and prompting around half a million to flee the country.

Since then, Burundi has been trying to find a peaceful solution to the political crisis through the Inter-Burundian Dialogue, which is led by the region and supported by the United Nations, while the country is also preparing for the 2020 elections in May.

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