Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented how Burundi’s security services and Imbonerakure members, the ruling party youth league, killed, raped, abducted, beat, and intimidated suspected opponents in the months leading up to the May 17 constitutional referendum. In its new report, the Commission of Inquiry reaffirmed these findings, and further found that crimes against humanity are still taking place in the country. Moreover, our researchers have just returned from Uganda where they interviewed Burundians who fled since the referendum. These men and women spoke of a continued pattern of beatings, threats and intimidation of those who voted against the constitutional change, or against those suspected of having instructed others to vote “no” to the change.
In her opening statement last week, High Commissioner Bachelet denounced the continuing reports of grave human rights violations, specifically highlighting the growing role of the Imbonerakure, who she said was responsible for multiple abuses and was “now increasingly acting as a law enforcement body.” Since the beginning of the crisis in 2015, we have documented how the Imbonerakure set up illegal roadblocks where they beat, detained and arrested people they suspected have links to the opposition. Our latest research, conducted last week, indicates that the Imbonerakure are more emboldened than ever to punish those they suspect are against the ruling party. A man who fled the country just after the referendum vote told our researchers: “The Imbonerakure are more powerful than the police.”
Burundi has repeatedly undermined the Council and has continuously shown contempt for human rights and human rights mechanisms. For example, two years ago Burundi suspended its 25-year old cooperation with the OHCHR, and it has refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, declaring its members persona non grata during this session. Remarkably, Burundi has not cooperated with the HRC resolution it itself had supported last year, expelling from the country three UN experts tasked with providing technical assistance to Burundian authorities.
The Human Rights Council should not cave in to Burundi’s repeated obstruction, which only further demonstrates the need for continued scrutiny, and highlights the importance of the full renewal of the COI at this session to continue its critical reporting and work towards accountability.
Further, we reiterate our call to the Council to recommend that Burundi be suspended from this body, until there is meaningful cooperation and significant measures taken to stem the continuing violations. Membership comes with obligations of cooperation. On this, Burundi has failed.
Finally, how could your upcoming investigations further expand on those most responsible for the ongoing abuse in Burundi within the command structure of the state security forces and the Imbonerakure?