By Nicholas Elden
More than 300,000 people have fled Burundi amid widespread political unrest in response to recent violence and abductions. Sporadic violence has swept through Burundi since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced that he was seeking a third term, prompting protests and violent clashes between civilians and the police. More than 564 people have been killed since Nkurunziza was sworn in, and lists of executions were found in the possession of the president’s executive staff.
A member of the Imbonerakure youth militia admitted to 20 killings. “The bodies were taken by boat across the Ruzizi River into the Democratic Republic of Congo and buried there,” he said. Satellite imagery further suggests the existence of mass graves in several places in Burundi. Other witnesses reported extensive torture carried out by the country’s security forces, including burning people alive and forcing victims to sit in acid or on broken glass.
The United Nations is voting on the idea of placing peacekeeping forces on the ground in Burundi to end the violence and human rights violations. On September 20, however, Burundi rejected the reports of violence as politicized and falsified. Burundi’s minister for external affairs, Aime Nyamitwe, in response to a detailed news release from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said to the General Assembly that “some cases were taken out of context, others out of proportion, with no word of the security personnel who were killed on duty,” and stressed Burundi’s unwavering support for human rights and its dedication to the safety of all citizens.
Contrastingly, the United Nations Independent Investigation in Burundi published on September 13 a report that described “abundant evidence of gross human rights violations.” The primary violations of human rights and instances of systematic violence were targeted at human rights advocates and journalists. Witnesses attested to disappearances enforced by members of the government and by agents of Burundi’s National Intelligence Service.
The investigation into Burundi further uncovered numerous reports of sexual violence against women and girls attempting to flee the country. Cases of sexual mutilation, and even sexual violence against men held in detention, emerged as well.
Burundi’s history of ethnic violence and impunity has in the past been between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority. In 2005, the nation reached the Arusha Accords, along with a revision of their Constitution, which have ensured the longest period of peace Burundi has seen since its independence in 1962. The violence since April 2015 do not seem to stem from ethnically targeted violence, but from the Burundian government targeting citizens attempting to flee the country and individuals who protest against the government and its regime.
Refugees that have left Burundi have since fled to the neighboring countries of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In July and August alone, more than 20,000 Burundians fled their homes.
William Spindler, a spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said, “These worrying trends will persist as long as a solution to the political crisis remains elusive, with far-reaching humanitarian consequences in Burundi and the region.” UNHCR urged the international community to increase donations for essentials such as food, medicine, and shelter.