Widespread lawlessness in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, has spread across the country. In recent months there have been increasing reports of brutality by Burundian intelligence services who are accused of arbitrarily arresting and torturing scores of perceived opponents. Members of the police and of the youth wing of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure, are also involved in serious abuses, including rape. 

Intelligence agents and others have melted burning plastic on victims, tied ropes to their genitals and pulled them, beaten them with steel rods and shocked them with electricity. One man who was tortured by a member of the intelligence services told Human Rights Watch: “They tortured me with a cable. They wrapped it around my leg. I sat next to a socket where they plugged the cable in. They plugged it in and disconnected it, shocking me, while asking questions.”

Intelligence service agents often accuse detainees of collaborating with rebels or hiding weapons, and try to force them to admit to these alleged offenses.

Despite having no legal powers of arrest, some Imbonerakure have taken into custody people in front of police, military and border officials, accusing them of collaborating with Burundian armed groups in Rwanda. Imbonerakure beat them and handed them over to the intelligence services where some were tortured.

In some provinces, Imbonerakure have gang-raped women in their homes as part of attacks on perceived opponents. Police -- or men in police uniforms -- have also raped women. Some women have been raped when attempting to cross the border to Tanzania.

Burundian authorities have shown a blatant disregard for human rights since the crisis began in April 2015. The widespread torture and other serious violations should call into question Burundi’s membership in the Human Rights Council.

In addition, the Council should urge the creation of an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate grave abuses in Burundi since April 2015 – including torture and sexual violence – and support the efforts of the UN special rapporteurs. The commission should have expertise in criminal and forensic investigations and conduct in-depth inquiries with a view to establishing responsibility for the most serious crimes.