New Government in Burundi: Dampened Hopes for Political Openness and the Fight Against Impunity

Press release
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The announcement of the composition1 of the new Burundian government has dampened the hopes for openness and liberalisation that emerged with the election of the new President Evariste Ndayishimiye, after 15 years of reign of former President Pierre Nkurunziza, who died on 8 June. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its Burundian member organisation, Ligue Iteka, are particularly concerned about the appointment of persons under international sanctions for their role in the bloody crackdown on anyone suspected of opposing the regime for the past five years, which could hinder the fight against impunity for crimes committed in the country since 2015.

Three names among the new members of the government are particularly noteworthy: Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, Prime Minister, Gervais Ndirakobuca, Minister of the Interior, Community Development and Public Security, and Ezéchiel Nibigira, Minister of East African Community Affairs, Youth, Sports and Culture.

« The composition of the new Burundian government shows that the "hard line" still prevails among the regime’s top leadership. The appointment of certain ministers shows that the small circle that orchestrated the authoritarian and bloody trend of the last five years is still in power, which does not bode well for civil society and the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the surrounding countries, who see their hopes of returning to the country postponed indefinitely»

Anschaire NIKOYAGIZE, President of Ligue ITEKA.

The government will be led by General Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, who was appointed Prime Minister by the President on 23 June. The highest ranking officer in the Burundian police force, Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni has been subject to targeted sanctions by the United States for his alleged role in the repression that has been raging since 2015.

In particular, he is accused of using his residences in the Gasekebuye and Kinanira neighbourhoods of Bujumbura as places of arbitrary detention and torture. Bodies were also allegedly buried in mass graves dug in the Musaga area of Gasekebuye under the supervision of several of his bodyguards when he was Minister of Security.

General Gervais Ndirakobuca alias Ndakugarika, appointed Minister of the Interior, Community Development and Public Security by presidential decree on 28 June, is under individual United States and European Union sanctions for his alleged role in planning and coordinating repression as Chief of Staff to former President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Finally, Ezéchiel Nibigira, appointed Minister of East African Community Affairs, Youth, Sports and Culture on the same day, was Minister of External Relations under the former government and before that, head of the Imbonerakure.
This militia, made up of young activists from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), is infamous for the climate of terror it has created in the country, intimidating, attacking and murdering hundreds of people due to their membership, real or supposed, in the opposition or the protest movement.

The appointment of figures notorious for their alleged roles and responsibility for serious human rights violations perpetrated over the past five years raises fears that impunity for these crimes will continue, or even that the repressive regime, which has been at work since 2015, will persist, which could result in new violations.

Ultimately, all the members of the government are from the party in power. The lack of representation of the opposition seems to leave no room for the resumption of inclusive political dialogue.

Since 2015, civic and democratic space has been decimated in Burundi, while serious human rights violations have been committed with impunity by representatives of ruling party CNDD-FDD and its Imbonerakure militia. For instance, between April 2015 and June 2020, Ligue Iteka documented 2,292 people killed, including 263 women, 563 people reported missing, 1,027 people tortured, 11,152 people arbitrarily arrested and 264 victims of gender-based sexual violence.
According to the same source, in June 2020 alone, 23 people were killed, two abducted, three tortured, six victims of gender-based sexual violence and 58 arbitrarily arrested. The Burundian intelligence services (SNR), the police and the Imbonerakure militia are among the main perpetrators of these violations.

« It is essential that the international community not turn a blind eye to crimes committed in Burundi since 2015, and that the fight against impunity for these crimes be at the heart of its actions so that perpetrators can be prosecuted and tried and victims can finally obtain justice  »

Paul NSAPU, FIDH Vice President

This is why FIDH and Ligue Iteka call on regional and international institutions, as well as Burundi’s international partners, to strengthen their attention to the country at this pivotal time. This involves in particular:

 Maintaining the individual sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States against persons considered to be responsible for human rights violations or obstructing the democratisation of the country and who are still in a position to commit human rights violations, including Gervais Ndirakobuca and Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni; as well as continuing, in the coming months, to closely monitor the human rights situation in the country in order to determine whether there is a need to renew the measures taken against these persons when they expire.

 Extending for one year the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi established by the UN Human Rights Council to continue its necessary work of documenting and establishing responsibility for serious human rights violations committed in the country since 2015.

 Publicly urging the new Burundian authorities to cooperate with international and regional mechanisms, in particular with organisations of the United Nations system and especially with the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry so that it can investigate on Burundian territory.

 Calling on Burundi and other States Parties to strengthen their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), in particular to support its investigation opened in 2017, and calling on the ICC to remain seized of the situation in Burundi.

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