New information received by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi supports what many have long suspected: Marie-Claudette Kwizera, the treasurer of the Burundian group Ligue Iteka, was targeted because of her human rights work and murdered.
Almost four years ago, Marie-Claudette, who was passionate about human rights and had joined the Ligue Iteka in secondary school, was picked up and driven away in a vehicle thought to belong to the National Intelligence Service (SNR). The vehicle with tinted windows took her to an unknown location, leaving her colleagues and loved ones expecting the worse. The commission now says she was driven to a local SNR office before being taken to another location to be executed.
Marie-Claudette’s murder remains a warning to those who dare denounce abuse in the country. Only yesterday, the commission confirmed that in 2018 and 2019, there was an aggravation of restrictions on civil liberties, as “journalists and human rights defenders continued to be arbitrarily arrested and detained, but also intimidated, harassed or subjected to ill-treatment to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate activities.”
That the Burundian authorities have failed to launch a thorough, independent investigation into her death is not surprising. Ligue Iteka publicly denounces abuse by security forces and the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure.
Abductions and disappearances took place all too regularly in Burundi in late 2015 and 2016. Jean Bigirimana, a journalist with Iwacu, Burundi’s last remaining independent newspaper, was on a reporting trip in July 2016 when he disappeared. Unconfirmed reports indicated that members of the Burundian intelligence services arrested him in Bugarama.
The commission says that these days anyone suspected of not supporting the ruling party is at risk. Families live in fear that their loved ones will be picked up one night by members of the SNR or Imbonerakure, never to be seen again. Sometimes, if the authorities or the Imbonerakure don’t find the person they are looking for, they take their family members instead.
But families like Marie-Claudette’s have a right to full, independent, and speedy investigations by authorities into what happened to their relatives. Until then, the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate should be extended to continue their critical documentation work.