By Millicent Zighe
At least 77 people have been violently killed in various areas of Burundi’s capital since the beginning of the year.
Human rights monitors have documented weekly murders in the suburbs of the opposition-stronghold of Bujumbura, which they attribute to police or government-allied militia. In mid February alone, seven unidentified people were executed, their bodies tied up and thrown into River Rusizi and Lake Rweru. In the first half of April, this year, 20 people were reportedly killed in various locations. Ten deaths were recorded in March; 21 in February; and 13 in January.
Deaths are reported anonymously through email and short text messages by human rights defenders, magistrates, administrators, or members of the security services to the Human Rights Defenders of Burundi under the umbrella, SOS-Torture/Burundi, who then verify the information.
Emmanuel Ndayishimiye was hanging onto life by a thread in the Ruvubu River on the banks of Mirama Hill. He had been missing since March 18, 2019 when his relatives saw state intelligence agents arrested him. Ndayishimiye, who is a member of the opposition National Congress for Liberty (CNL) had been missing alongside two other companions. After his rescue and hospitalisation in Gitega, he was released but picked up again by the police.
Witnesses reported seeing two men arguing on the evening of March 24, 2019 at Sigu Hill of Busoni in Kirundo Province. A member of the feared Imbonarukre militia group ordered Aimable Ndayizeye to close his bistro. When he refused, the militia member pulled out his knife and stabbed Ndayizeye in the chest.
On Karera Hill of Shanga in Rutana Province, unidentified people clubbed Mrs Bayizere to death. Police in the local Musongati area have not identified any suspects to date. It is the same case with scores of killings occurring in the Musaga, Mutakura, Cibitoke, Nyakabiga and Jabe areas, which have seen the most vocal protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s push for a third term in office.
Police and security agents have often made expeditions into the area under the pretext of pursuing rebels who allegedly came to attack military camps on the outskirts of the capital.
Killings are not new in Burundi. In November 2018, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) produced and broadcast the documentary, “Inside Burundi’s Killing Machine”, which uncovered secret torture/murder detention sites in the country. The documentary claimed that several members of the opposition party, National Congress for Freedom (CNL), had been tortured and killed by national intelligence police.
Although the Burundi government has denied the allegations of killing, numerous human rights monitors have continued to document continuing low-grade atrocities.
SOS Torture/Burundi has pointed out that in recent months, police have ordered the immediate burial of bodies found floating on rivers and in lakes without conducting an autopsy or even waiting for them to be properly identified.
A body wrapped in a mosquito net was found floating in River Ruvubu. In April 2019, the body of a young man was also discovered floating in River Ruvyiyoronza. It is suspected that the victim had been tortured since there was blood in the nostrils and wounds all over the body.
A badly decomposed body of a man was found in Bambo Hill, Cibitoke Province in February 2019. Police ordered it buried without investigating the cause of death. Months later, the body of Arsene Ndabihawenimana, the director of Electricity Department of Bujumbura International Airport, was found in a gutter. He had been strangled.
The Burundi conflict has not spared children: The bodies of two children aged three and 12 years were found in Mbuye and Buvyuko communes in April. The three-year-old’s mother had reported him missing before his body was found. A youth militia member was killed while playing with a grenade at their home. His father was arrested but released without charge. A United Nations report notes that many children have been left without parents due to ongoing civil war.
In July and August 2014, some 40 decomposed bodies were discovered at the border between Rwanda and Burundi. Burundi’s prosecutor general would later state that the bodies were Rwandans however the country denied the allegations. A climate of fear has engulfed Burundi even as President Nkurunziza has repeatedly encouraged Burundian refugees to return home claiming they would be safe. Many Burundian refugees are reluctant to return because of the horrors they experienced. Over 400,000 people have fled Burundi and sought asylum in neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania.
Burundi sunk into a political crisis in April 2015 after President Nkurunziza decided to contest elections for a third term in spite of express provisions in the peace agreement reached in Arusha. Official repression has since taken the patter of death, torture, detention, disappearances and the fleeing into exile of some 400,000 refugees, according to the United National High Commissioner for Refugees.
Three UN high-level commissions of inquiry have called for international intervention in Burundi, and the African Union has also mandated a commission to assist the country to return to peace and democracy.
Judges at the International Criminal Court allowed the prosecutor to open an investigation into allegations of crimes against humanity in Burundi in 2017 – a day before the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute became effective.
Justice remains a distant dream for millions of Burundians after Burundi withdrew from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in October 2017. Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC still leaves the court space to still exercise its jurisdiction for crimes committed from December 2004 to 26 October 2017.