Burundi, a country long fractured along ethnic and political lines, emerged from 16 years of civil war in 2009 and began taking steps toward reconciliation and democracy. The prospect of a peaceful future was crushed in spring 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza stood for a controversial third term, triggering widespread public demonstrations. Government forces cracked down brutally on human rights activists and others protesting Nkurunziza’s successful bid to extend his hold on power, with police shooting indiscriminately into crowds of demonstrators, killing and wounding dozens.
Since then, the crisis has only deepened. The government has shuttered Burundi’s once vibrant independent media outlets and left its dynamic civil society in tatters, with most opposition party leaders, human rights activists, and independent journalists forced into exile after repeated threats. Several hundred people have been killed in the violence, and over 280,000 have fled their homes.
As one of the few international human rights organizations working on Burundi, Human Rights Watch has documented the crisis in detail since the beginning. We have conducted sustained advocacy at the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, the African Union and the European Union, among others, to try to prevent a further escalation of violence. These and other institutions and governments have taken up many of Human Rights Watch’s recommendations and have prioritized human rights considerations in their policy towards Burundi.
Human Rights Watch is playing a crucial role in speaking out where our local partners cannot for fear of retribution: Burundian activists and journalists have been arrested, disappeared and even killed. We have drawn attention to their plight and to those of ordinary Burundians who have borne the brunt of the government repression. We are continuing to press key national and international interlocutors to combat the entrenched impunity for human rights abuses that fuels such crimes. Through numerous publications, media work and high level advocacy, we have ensured that Burundi remains high on the agenda of many international actors, but much more must be done to stem ongoing bloodshed in Burundi.
In the coming year, we will continue working to document and expose killings, torture, and other abuses. We will use our findings to urge international actors to support the call for justice and maximize pressure on the Burundian government to end its brutal crackdown.