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Burundi's Human Rights Record still marred by torture, murders, and lawlessness

16th September 2021: According to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, despite President Evariste Ndayishimiye's promise to improve the country's situation after years of brutal repression, crimes such as arbitrary imprisonment, death, torture, and intimidation have persisted. These heinous crimes were committed, the majority of which were against political opponents. Journalists and human rights activists were retaliated against for their efforts, and their freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly were restricted. Hate speech based on ethnicity persisted, and the President made homophobic remarks at several of his rallies.

These human rights violations have been on the rise since 2020. According to a UN Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry (COI), severe human rights violations, including crimes against humanity in some instances, persisted in 2019 and 2020. It started when former President Pierre Nkurunziza died in June, only days after his successor, Évariste Ndayishimiye, was elected in May 2020. Nonetheless, the country's dire human rights situation remained largely unaffected. In May, the presidential, parliamentary, and communal elections and the senate and municipal elections in July were conducted in a restrictive atmosphere plagued by claims of irregularities. The Authorities banned access to social media and messaging applications across the country on election day in May 2020, preventing independent reporting and information exchange among the citizens. The ruling party's youth league, administrative authorities, and government security agencies perpetrated numerous violations with almost complete impunity during the pre-election phase. After the elections, the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) retained their monopoly, with civil society organizations claiming an increase in deaths and arbitrary arrests. Additionally, during the year 2020, little information has been disclosed regarding many important security events. In February, skirmishes between security forces and accused "criminals" were reported in western Bujumbura Rural province, with images and videos circulating online showing arrested individuals and dead bodies surrounded by police and local citizens. Following the elections, local civil society organizations and the media have reported multiple attacks by unidentified armed individuals in regions bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, often resulting in civilian fatalities. The occurrences were not made public by the authorities.

Civilized society and independent journalism are still unable to function effectively, and despite global requests for their release, numerous human rights advocates and journalists remain imprisoned. Furthermore, because the new administration is still striving to acquire control of the court, the legal system in Burundi cannot be trusted to "curtail or attempt to redress the human rights violations." These human rights violations are a grave issue that must be issued immediately. In this regard, over the past five years, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has documented, monitored, and reported on the serious human rights violations in Burundi. It has conducted over 1,770 interviews and will deliver its observations to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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