President Nkurunziza was sworn in for a third term on 20 August despite the chaos in the country and worsening human rights situation.
The inauguration ceremonies were brought forward by a week amid fears of rebel attacks. The president took the oath of office without any foreign leader in attendance and under tight security. The leader of the opposition Union for National Progress, Charles Nditije summarised the situation as “a rushed up oath taken in secret, in hiding and under tight supervision, as if the country was at war.”
Nkurunziza is starting a third term under a slow collapse of the economy following the suspension of foreign assistance which accounts for more than 50 per cent of the country`s budget and fast dwindling tax revenues.
In his speech, the president promised to restore security within two months and indirectly threatened civil society and religious organisations for their involvement in politics. He equated those who were against him as being against God. “He dared to say that those who are against him will suffer the punishment of God. According to him, it seems that being against it is being against God, as if he were God on earth,” the leader of ex-ruling Union for National Progress, Charles Nditije, commented.
Other members of the opposition brushed aside the inauguration calling it a `comedy` which should be stopped as they did not recognize the elections which brought him to power. “We cannot talk of swearing in when there were no elections”, said Front for Democracy in Burundi leader Leonce Ngendakumana.
The president has also formed a 20-member government in violation of the Arusha peace agreement and the constitution. Most opposition parties boycotted the elections and those which stayed did not get the requisite five per cent of total votes to be part of the government. He appointed five ministers from Amizero y’ abarundi (Burundians’ hope) coalition although the constitution has only space for a party.
Daily collection of bodies from the streets
Nkurunziza`s inauguration took place in an environment characterised by kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings. Amnesty International in its August report joined other human rights organisations to condemn the serious violations of human rights taking place in Burundi through mainly torture. “Testimonies indicate that both the National Intelligence Service (Service National des Renseignements – SNR) and the Burundian National Police (Police Nationale du Burundi – PNB) are responsible for acts of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees arrested since April 2015 for their suspected participation in protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office, as well as against a human rights activist and a journalist”, the report says
President Nkurunziza’s promise to restore security within two months was interpreted as a prelude for more lifeless bodies being collected from the streets of the capital in the coming days. Bodies of those opposed to the third term are daily collected since 26 April mainly from the streets of opposition strongholds. Fingers have been pointed at the police, the youth of the ruling National Council for Defence of Democracy-Forces for Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) and state intelligence officers.
Speaking to the media on 24 July, the head of The Organisation for Protection of Human Rights and Detainees (Aprodh), Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, who is now undergoing treatment in Belgium following an attempt on his life, said more than 1000 people were arrested since April this year. He also said more than 90 people were killed, 60 had serious fractures while 16 were unaccounted for.
Rights defenders, journalists targeted
In its report issued on 6th August, Human Rights Watch accused Burundi intelligence officers, the police and the ruling party youth of arbitrarily arresting suspected opponents, beating and torturing them. In detention, “SNR agents and policemen beat them with electric cables to force them to admit to trumped-up charges, such as planning to join an armed rebellion in Rwanda. Others were hit with gun butts and heavy wooden rods. In some cases, SNR agents forced them to undress and engage in humiliating and painful exercises, such as hopping like a frog and walking like a duck, or making them crawl on their elbows in gravel.” The HRW report quoted former detainees saying.
In a typical case of a hunter becoming the hunted, Burundian outspoken Human Rights defender, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was in August shot on the face by suspected government agents on a motorbike. Mbonimpa owes his life to rights defender colleagues who sought the intervention of Western diplomats to be allowed to seek medical assistance in Europe. There was fear that he would be “finished up on his hospital bed”, at it is always the case when a targeted person is shot and missed.
Before Mbonimpa’s shooting, the National Intelligence Agency had arrested and badly beaten a Radio France International correspondent, Esdras Ndikumana while he was reporting on the assassination of President Nkurunziza’s right hand man, Adolphe Nshimirimana. At the SNR, the journalist was stripped naked, told to lay on his stomach and then beaten up until his finger was fractured. He was hospitalised after a two-hour ordeal which was supervised by a senior official of the internal security department.
The African Union has sent human rights observers to Burundi but their presence has not had an impact on the ground as people continue to be kidnapped, tortured and killed.
The opposition boycotted presidential, legislative and local elections claiming that the constitution and the Arusha Agreement did not allow for more than two presidential terms. However, the president’s supporters argue that the first term did not count as the president was not elected through universal suffrage.
Members of the international community such as the African Union, the European Union, the UN and the USA which financed and helped in reaching the Arusha Agreement, also support the two-term constitutional clause.
The African Union refused to send observers to Burundi while the European Union and the Burundi Catholic Church withdrew theirs claiming the polls won’t be free and fair. In their report after the elections, the observers of the East African Community said that the elections were neither free nor fair.
The violations of human rights are expected to worsen following the assassination of General Adolphe Nshimirimana who has been for a long time associated with the violation of human rights in the country and spearheading the crack down on those opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term. The president gave security forces a week to find the killers. However, members of the opposition say the government which had until the death of the general not reacted to other killings in the country may seize the opportunity to round up or eliminate opponents.
Policemen and Imbonerakure youths have also been killed albeit in small numbers. After the brutal suppression of demonstrations in the capital, people took up arms and armed youths have taken over the protection of their neighbourhoods at night.
The army has by large remained neutral, largely avoiding intervention in the crisis. At the beginning of the crisis, the army formed a buffer wall between demonstrators and the police. However, following the failed May coup which led to the replacement of the minister of defence, the army opted to quit the streets, leaving civilian demonstrators facing policemen and intelligence officers who are known for their unreserved support for the third term. That’s is when most killings started taking place.
The police say some of those in police uniforms killing civilians are not policemen. Analysts say Imbonerakure youths who have been accused of carrying out most extrajudicial killings, put on police uniforms in order to operate in opposition neighbourhoods. However, known police officers have also been photographed shooting and killing innocent people.
There have also been reports of the presence in the ranks of the Burundi police of members of the Rwandan Forces for Defence of Liberation of Rwanda opposed to President Kagame’s regime.
The Hague-based International Criminal Court has twice threatened to bring to justice those responsible for instigating violence in Burundi. In a statement issued in May, ahead of the Burundi legislative, local and presidential elections, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned politicians that “Any person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing in any other manner to the commission of crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction is liable to prosecution before the Court. No one should doubt my resolve to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for committing crimes under ICC jurisdiction.” (K.L.)