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Burundi: Behind a façade of normalization, grave human rights violations continue, and the democratic space remains closed

16 September 2021

Français | Kirundi

Geneva (16 September 2021) – Despite the initial promises of Burundi’s President Évariste Ndayishimiye to improve the human situation in the country ridden by years of violent repression and to restore the rule of law, structural measures to bring long-lasting change are yet to be seen. The democratic space remains tightly closed and serious human rights violations continue to be committed since the President took office in June 2020.

“Even if the country appears to be on the road to normalization, there is ample reason to remain very concerned about the dire human rights situation in Burundi”, said Doudou Diène, Chairperson of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi at the launch of its fifth report at the United Nations in Geneva.  “We call on everyone concerned for Burundi to look under the surface. Since President Ndayishimiye’s inauguration 15 months ago, not only have grave human rights violations continued to occur, but in some respects the situation has deteriorated”.

For instance, many serious human rights violations have happened in the context of multiple armed attacks committed since August 2020. While seeking persons allegedly involved in the armed attacks or collaborating with rebel groups, the security forces targeted mainly members from the main opposition party, the National Congress for Liberty (CNL), former members of the Tutsi-dominated Burundian Armed Forces (ex-FAB), returnees and some of their family members. Some were executed, others disappeared or were tortured while detained arbitrarily.

Although the level of political violence decreased immediately after the 2020 elections, the political climate remains highly intolerant of dissent. Members of opposition parties, in particular the CNL, are still regularly targeted by abusive restrictions and are subject to grave human rights violations such as disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions and torture, in particular since June 2021.

In a new report, released today, the Commission notes the contradictory signals sent by the authorities: while lifting some sanctions imposed on civil society and the media and releasing some human rights defenders and journalists, the Government took measures, in parallel, to tighten its control on the work of international NGOs and regularly manifests hostility towards independent journalism.

Agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR), police officers – including from the Mobile Rapid Intervention Groups (GMIR) - and the Imbonerakure, the youth-league of Burundi’s ruling party CNDD-FDD, known for their brutality, are the main perpetrators of those violations, some of which could amount to crimes against humanity. They continue to enjoy widespread impunity for their actions, as has been the case since 2015.

Commissioner Françoise Hampson highlighted that “rule of law in Burundi continues to erode despite the stated intention of President Ndayishimiye to restore it. When government decisions are taken arbitrarily, even for positive ends, it has a corrupting influence overall.” She added that “in Burundi, neither can the Judiciary be relied upon to curb or remedy human rights violations. Our report shows how the Executive has only been strengthening its control over the Judiciary under the new Administration.”

During the past five years, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has been the only remaining independent international mechanism to document, monitor, and report on human rights violations in Burundi. Since its creation, it has conducted more than 1,770 interviews, including remotely, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, as well as Burundi.

The Commission is due to present its report to the Human Rights Council on 23 September 2021.


Infographics in English, French and Kirundi are available at:
Media contact : (Geneva) Sandra Miller, United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi + 41 22 917 3426 / + 41 76 691 04 39/ [email protected]
More information on the work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi can be found at: