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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Burundi: UN Commission of Inquiry warns that a few months before the elections, the risk of atrocities remains serious

10 March 2020


GENEVA (10 March 2020) – Two months ahead of Burundi's presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in May 2020, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (COIB) launched an appeal to the international community, including the Security Council, and regional institutions, to join forces to encourage the Burundian Government to reopen the democratic, civil and political space in the country. These are not only basic human rights, they are also an absolute requirement for the holding of free, transparent and credible elections in a peaceful climate.

During an oral briefing on 9 March to the UN Human Rights Council, the Commission concluded that the eight risk factors common to criminal atrocities (developed in 2014 by the UN Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect) applied to Burundi in the Commission's September 2019 report, are still present, and some even more marked than before, while a major round of local to presidential elections are just a few months ahead in Burundi.

The COIB noted a deterioration of the situation with regard to the risk factor on political, economic and security instability. Members of the CNDD-FDD youth league, the "Imbonerakure" continued to carry out killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, acts of torture and ill-treatment and rape against actual or alleged political opposition members. Family members of the victims often also became victims of serious violations, notably sexual violence.

The human rights situation is aggravated by the sharp downturn in the economic situation, another dimension of the crisis in which Burundi has been mired since 2015. The humanitarian situation remains worrying, with 336,000 Burundian refugees in neighboring countries and some being returned in circumstances where the "voluntary nature" is questionable.

Two other risk factors related to the widespread climate of impunity for serious human rights violations, and to the weakness of State structures to be able to prevent or stop violations, remain relevant.

The Commission has observed a more ambiguous development regarding another risk factor, namely the existence of intentions and motives to resort to violence.  Some others risk factors are more pronounced, with an increased government's media censorship by imposing, without prior consultation, a "Code of conduct for media and journalists during the 2020 electoral period". Four journalists from Iwacu, one of the last independent media operating in Burundi, were sentenced to prison in January 2020. 

The increase of hate speech with political and/or ethnic dimensions that circulates unrestricted on social media and the silence of the Burundian authorities in this matter, creates an environment conducive to violence and human rights violations, which is another risk factor.

In light of these worrisome developments, the Commissioners emphasize that holding credible elections would be an important sign of democratic change and of respect for human rights, but without drastic and immediate measures, the conditions for such elections are not given. After years of suffering, the Burundian people have the right to live in a reconciled society and a democratic environment.


For more information and media requests, please contact: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Sandra Miller (COIB) (+ 41 22 917 3426 / [email protected]

For further information please see the infographic or visit the COIB web page.