This year, Human Rights Watch spoke with some of the hundreds of refugees who continue to flee Burundi each month. Many continue to leave because of the violence: the appearance of a neighbor’s body on the street bearing signs of beatings or machete wounds, the disappearance of a loved one, or repeated threats by the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure. But more and more refugees have said that the so-called “voluntary” financial contributions they were forced to make to the ruling CNDD-FDD and to fund the 2020 elections pushed them to leave. One refugee interviewed in July said:
I left Burundi because I wasn’t a member of the ruling party. The Imbonerakure asked me to pay because I wasn’t a member. They asked all the time until I started operating at a loss. When I tried to cross over to Tanzania, I was accused of being a rebel and of supporting the opposition.
Many men and women interviewed this year told us that refusing to join the ruling party, give money to it, attend its rallies or build its offices leads to threats, beatings, arrests, or death. We have documented how the Imbonerakure set up illegal roadblocks where they beat up and extorted people who had not paid for the elections, prevented people from accessing markets, and forcibly collected in-kind contribution from an already severely impoverished population.
Yet last month, Tanzania and Burundi agreed to repatriate all Burundian refugees from Tanzania, whether they wanted to return or not, arguing that Burundi is peaceful. According to the Commission, the current illusion of calm is based on terror. Human Rights Watch agrees with this assessment.
The continued abuses and the COI’s stark warning about the risk of further atrocities less than a year ahead of the country’s next elections highlights the importance of the full renewal of the COI at this session to continue its critical work. The mandate is all the more important given that the OHCHR was forced to leave Burundi in February.
Commissioners, could you further address the risks Burundians who have recently returned from aborad face? Do you think the international community has the mechanisms in place and ability to independently monitor the situation of repatriated Burundians once they have returned?