Burundi: The international crime machine and open conflict must be stopped

Press release
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(Bujumbura, Geneva, New York, Paris) FIDH and its member organisation in Burundi, the ITEKA League, condemn the continuing violence that started in Burundi on 11 December, and particularly the waves of reprisals and summary executions carried out against civilians by Burundi security forces.

An estimated 154 civilians have been killed and close to 150 young men have disappeared. Because the risks that international crimes have been perpetrated are extremely high FIDH and the ITEKA League call on the United Nations to immediately deploy an independent fact-finding mission to shed light on these crimes and their perpetrators, to strengthen the protection of civilians, and to increase its presence in the area. Our organisations urge the international community to assess the mechanics of the present-day crimes and level of violence and to respond appropriately, especially by adopting measures to avoid repetition of the grave human rights violations, convince the authorities to open negotiations and to prevent the country from definitely sliding into civil war.

FIDH and the ITEKA League are extremely concerned about the new round of violence that has been going on since Friday, 11 December in Bujumbura which resulted in at least 154 civilian victims. This is the toll of the attack on three army bases, two in Bujumbura and one in a rural Bujumbura province early Friday, 11 December, by armed groups opposed to the present government and by possible mutineers. This resulted in several hours of violent clashes with police and security forces. Security forces immediately proceeded to seal off districts deemed to be rebel areas and let loose a campaign of reprisals against the local young men, rounding up and summarily executing individuals, whose bodies continue to be discovered. Apparently some 300 young men were arrested at their homes. 154 of them have been found dead since 12 December. All were unarmed civilians. Our organisations are extremely concerned about the fate of 130 to 150 missing youths and the on-going arrests in Bujumbura. The mass arrests of civilians and their extrajudicial executions which have been committed and apparently are still being committed mainly in Bujumbura are crimes of extreme gravity, possibly constituting international crimes.

"The scope and level of coordination involved in the attacks carried out on Friday by heavily armed insurgent groups, as well as the unheard degree of violence by the Burundian authorities towards the youth in rebellious neighbourhoods, combined with extrajudicial and summary executions, and the total absence of government will to resolve the crisis peacefully is creating fear of an all out conflict."


On Friday, December 11th at about 4 AM insurgent groups launched coordinated attacks on two military camps, namely the Ngagara logistics base north of Bujumburu and the Burundi officers school (ISCAM) in the Musaga district in the south. Groups of armed individuals penetrated the military installations, allegedly stole weapons and ammunition and then were joined by some of the servicemen. For close to four hours the rebels fought the security forces with heavy weapons. Shortly thereafter they attacked the Mujejuru base in Mugugo Manga, in the province east of the capital.

Official sources report that 4 military personnel, 4 policemen and 79 “rebels” were killed during the attack and 47 “enemies” were arrested. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the assailants, whose numbers are estimated to be between a few dozen and a few hundred have not been clearly identified. Some of them may be opponents who have taken up arms and some of them may be mutineers from the police force and the Burundian army.

After the confrontations, the security forces who support Pierre Nkurunziza arbitrarily arrested large numbers of people in the capital’s so-called districts of dissension, and according to information obtained by our organisations, at least 300 young men were caught in the raid, whereof 154 are said to have been executed and 130 to 150 are missing. The security forces also carried out summary and extrajudicial executions. According to information from administrative sources that has been borne out by witnesses, 154 unarmed bodies dressed in civilian clothes were found mainly around the bases, in the streets of Nyakabiga and Musaga, and near the Ntahangwa and Muha rivers since Saturday 12 December. Most of them were shot in the head and some of them died with their hands tied behind their backs. Three unidentified bodies were discovered on Wednesday, 16 December, buried near the Bujumbura central prison.

Police forces and local authorities had most of the bodies removed before any investigations could be started or the victims could be identified, allegedly for health reasons, but constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law and suggests that the authorities are trying to hide the evidence of the atrocities. Corroborative sources report the existence of a mass grave in Ruziba, behind the Kanyosha church, south of the capital, where 28 bodies appeared to have been buried on Saturday 12 December. Another mass grave was discovered in Buringa, a community a few kilometres from the Mpanda cemetery, in Bubanza province, north of Bujumbura. Three pick-up trucks were seen on Friday evening, 11 December filled with an unknown number of bodies which were later covered with dirt by a group of unidentified men.

Further, on Saturday the Musaga district was completely sealed off and the so-called dissension districts (Nyakabiga, Ngagara, Jabe, Mutakura, Cibitoke et Musaga) are still surrounded regularly by the police, the API (institution protection support) agency and the anti-riot brigade under Commissioner Désiré Uwamahoro and by the Imbonerakure youth militia who are still arresting people. There is a reign of terror in those districts, and the residents do not dare leave their homes.

The security forces are directly responsible for these crimes. Our organisations collected corroborative testimony about an ISCAM student who was on his way to the hospital to receive treatment, accompanied by a soldier, when National Intelligence Service agents and policemen took him away. He was shot in the head and died in the Nyakabiga neighbourhood where he was found shortly thereafter. Another ISCAM student is still missing.

The Burundian authorities are relentlessly harassing members of the civil society, political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists most of whom have gone into exile. On December 10th, 2015 Mrs Marie-Claudette Kwizera, Treasurer of the Burundian Human Rights Leagues (ITEKA), FIDH’s member organisation in Burundi, was arrested without a warrant by the National Intelligence Service (SNR). She is still being held in the SNR quarters where some SNR members have demanded 3,500,000 Burundi francs (about 2,050 euros) for her release. To this day, no further information has been obtained about her, and no one has been allowed to visit her.

“The United Nations should immediately send an international investigation commission to shed light on the very serious crimes being committed in Burundi. The African Untion (AU) should work together with the United Nations to protect the civilian population and consider suspending Burundi from the AU bodies if the Burundian authorities do not immediately restart an inclusive political dialogue. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should publicly recall the ICC’s jurisdiction to sentence persons who commit or participate in the commission of mass crimes and should very closely monitor the evolution of the situation”


The United Nations Human Rights Council will be meeting today, 17 December 2015 in Geneva in a special session to formulate a response to the violence that has been going on for months in Burundi, mainly because of the government in place. At that meeting, the Council should condemn, in the strongest terms, human rights violations committed in Burundi, attacks on civil society and independent media, inflammatory speeches, incitement to violence on political and ethnic grounds, and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of these crimes. The Council should call upon the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to immediately dispatch a fact-finding mission with a mandate to shed light on individual and collective responsibilities in the commission of the violations and to make recommendations for fighting impunity for the perpetrators of such violence.

In a letter addressed to the members of the United Nations Security Council, FIDH and the ITEKA League emphasise that the Council should adopt an urgent resolution on immediately sending a political mission complete with an international police force, and should increase the staff and expand the mandate of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi, in keeping with the recommendations of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, on 1 December 2015. The mandate of these UN services in Burundi should make it possible to defuse the conflict and prevent more outbreaks of violence, especially in Bujumbura. The police force should be composed of a sufficiently large number of trained and properly equipped units to help maintain the rule of law and protect civilians. The other services should be able to ensure protection for civilians, make progress in restarting an inclusive political dialogue and, especially keep track of and publish reports on human rights abuses and violations as well as on hate speeches.

Similarly, our organisations urge the UN Security Council and UN agencies to work closely with the African Union to prepare an emergency plan that provides for the swift deployment of military and police forces and international civil servants under a UN/AU mandate if the situation deteriorates any further. Our organisations share the opinion of the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, who recently declared that up to the present he hadn’t seen “…action [of the Council that] is proportionate to the threat…” We urge the Security Council and the African Union to prepare a response that is proportionate to this “threat”.


By forcing his bid for a third term President Pierre Nkurunziza has profoundly divided Burundi, just when the country was trying to reinstate democracy after the end of a bloody civil war that killed approximately 300,000 people between 1993 and 1995. In its May 2015 investigative report “Avoiding an Explosion in Burundi”, FIDH and ITEKA pointed to the political violence that was going on and the risk of conflagration if no political solution is found rapidly. Since that time, and President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he was seeking a third term, the number of human rights violations has continued to increase throughout the country.

Since April 2015, at least 518 people have been killed and close to 215,000 people have fled the country. Dozens of journalists and human rights defenders have also gone into exile. Despite the UN Security Council’s Resolution No. 2248, government security forces continue to commit extra-judicial executions in total impunity.

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