Burundi : Repression of a genocidal character, the UN’s response must be strong

Press release
en es fr

(New-York, Paris) Back from a fact-finding mission in Burundi, conducted in March 2016, FIDH and ITEKA condemn serious human rights violations in Burundi, mainly perpetrated by defence and security forces, against a background of ethnic and genocidal ideology. The ongoing crimes could already be qualified as crimes against humanity and there are now signs that the crisis could lead to acts of genocide. This crisis demands a strong response from the UN, notably through the deployment of a UN police and an international commission of inquiry to prevent mass atrocities.

Since April 2015, 700 people have allegedly been killed, 4,300 have been arbitrarily detained, and several hundred people (800 according to some sources) have been forcily disappeared. Hundreds of other people have been tortured and dozens of women have been sexually assaulted. As a result of the conflict in Burundi, more than 250,000 Burundians have already fled the country. While the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is set to submit options for the deployment of UN elements by 15 April, FIDH and ITEKA, call upon the international community, including the UN Security Council, to deploy an international police task force of at least 500 police officers with the objective of protecting civilians, stopping ongoing lethal violence, and preventing further armed clashes. FIDH and Iteka believe that if these trends continue, the African Union or the United Nations must send a peacekeeping force to end the violence and the repression of an increasingly genocidal nature.

During its mission, and in a forthcoming report, the FIDH delegation has documented and established the continuation of targeted and extra-judicial killings; of daily arbitrary arrests and detention; of the intensification of enforced disappearances and illegal detention facilities as well as torture. FIDH also witnessed the high level of surveillance and control on Burundian society by security forces, including by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and by the ruling party’s youth militias, the Imbunerakure.

“The situation is particularly worrying with the NIS – the main actor of the repression – that has infiltrated every layer of society and systematically tortures detainees. Parallel chains of command have been established within the security forces to orchestrate the repression. Part of the Imbunerakure [1] militia is trained, armed, and deployed throughout the country and acts as the defacto security forces. Tensions within the army are extremely vivid. The international community must do everything in its power to protect civilians and prevent the situation from getting out of control. The nature of the crimes witnessed by the FIDH delegation could very well fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Prosecutor, Ms Fatou Bensouda, should immediately open a preliminary examination of the situation in Burundi, which is state party to the ICC.”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

The evidence gathered by FIDH and ITEKA establishes that the Tustis are particularly targeted by the violence and due to their ethnicity. They are more targeted during arrests, are subject to ethnic insults from security forces and systematically tortured during detention. The public and private messages of members of the ruling party CNDD-FDD or regime supporters are referring to Tutsis more and more openly as “enemies, “terrorists” and “genocidal insurrection” [1]. Since the assassination on 22 March 2016, of Lieutenant-colonel Darius Ikurakure [2] , pillar of Burundi’s repressive system, targeted killings of soldiers belonging to the former Burundian Armed Forces – FAB (mainly composed of Tutsis) – have also increased.

According to information gathered by FIDH and ITEKA, more than 10 former Burundian army soldiers have been killed by unidentified men since the beginning of March. These elements are part of a larger context marked by an increasingly ethnic discourse by Burundian authorities and their supporters. The day before the funeral of the Lieutenant-Colonel Darius Ikurakure, messages were circulated on social media, including the following: “Dear HUTUS, wake up! Tomorrow we will bury another hero of the anti-Tutsi struggle, his excellency Lieutenant General Darius Ikurakure. Hutu officers and civilians will attend to thank him for his work. Come in number, and be careful and remember that he hero must not die alone, za mujeri sindumja muzincunge bibaye ngombwa mukore. Delende is Mike [watch those emaciated dogs, I am not a slave, if you must: work]. A word to the wise is enough! KORA [work]”. The term to “work” ,was used in Rwanda by the Hutu genocidal government to call upon the elimination of Tutsis. It was also used on 1 November 2015, by Burundian Senate President, Révérien Ndikuriyo, in front of his supporters and several Imbunerakure: “if you hear the signal with an order that it must end, emotions and tears will have no place !” and added “you must spray, you must exterminate those people (…) Wait for the day when we will say “work.”, you will see the difference!”. The conversation was not supposed to be recorded.

Burundian security forces involved in the repression are themselves made up of men who know how to execute orders and can “get things done,” according to a source close to the security services. “They are over 95% Hutus” adds the source. About ten units, among which the NIS, the Riot Squad (BAE), the Special Battalion for Institution Protection (BSPI), the Institution Protection Agency (API), the Combat Engineering Battalion (BGC), the Mobile Group for Rapid Intervention (GMIR) and Special Research Brigade (BSR), are led by those loyal to the regime directly linked through parallel command chains, to the presidency, including the civilian cabinet. Those persons, responsible for the repression, could be incriminated for the crimes perpetrated directly by them or under their authority and should be subjected to criminal prosecution and individual sanctions by international institutions and influential diplomatic bodies.

“FIDH and ITEKA are very concerned about the ethnic nature of the repression in recent months, the authoritarian rhetoric and the use of preventive violence by authorities and their supporters. This reminds of the anti-Hutu genocidal massacres of the last 40 years. The authorities consider that they are the only representatives of the people and refer any kind of political, ethnic and social pluralism to a “them” against “us”, deadly for the country. We solemnly call upon Burundian authorities to uphold the Arusha Agreement by ending the repression, freeing the thousands of political detainees, and take part in an honest dialogue with the opposition and the independent civil society.”

Anschaire Nikoyagiza, ITEKA President

In response to the abuses of the regime, many men are joining the ranks of rebel armed groups (Red Tabara and FOREBU). These groups have carried out targeted attacks and killings against representatives of CNDD-FDD, members of law enforcement and Imbonerakure in Bujumbura and in the provinces, which have resulted in civilian casualties.. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians may amount to war crimes and perpetrators must face justice.

Moreover, the documentation of these violations has become extremely dangerous. Human rights defenders, opponents and independent journalists still in Burundi are living mostly underground. They are followed and receive death threats. Almost every civil society leader, journalists and opposition member have been forced to flee the country and those who remain, leaders or activists, continue to be subjected to threats or even attacks by men suspected of acting on the behalf of the regime, especially the Imbonerakure.

The disappearance of Marie-Claudette Kwizera, ITEKA treasurer, since her arrest by NIS elements on 10 December 2015 illustrates a worrying phenomenon that would concern hundreds of cases. Some sources report at least 800 people have been foricbly disappeared. The documentation of these disappearances is more and more difficult because of the increase of illegal detention facilities. The Burundian authorities and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH), seized by FIDH on the case of Marie-Claudette Kwizera and other cases of enforced disappearances, were unable to provide explanations or information on the fate of these people who are neither refugees nor officially detained.

“Given the risk of a new civil war and the perpetration of mass crimes, our organisations urge the international community to deploy an international police force in the country (of at least 500 officers) to ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate the holding of an inclusive political dialogue as soon as possible. Furthermore, we call on the Security Council to mandate an independent international commission to investigate the crimes perpetrated since April 2015. ”

Dismas Kitenge, FIDH Vice President

On 1 April 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2279 urging all parties to the crisis to agree on a timetable for negotiations. It also calls on the UN Secretary-General, to present by 15 April to the Security Council "options" for the deployment of an international police force. In view of the security and human rights situation prevailing in the country, FIDH and ITEKA urge the UN to ensure that this task force has the mandate and the means to play a stabilizing, deterrent and monitoring role and to intervene in the event of the commission serious human rights violations.

Read more