By Millicent Zighe
Burundian authorities have carried out tens of beatings, disappearances and murders against opposition members a new report reveals.
Members of the Imbonerakure, a youth militia allied to the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party stand accused of holding an intimidation campaign to force more people to join the party ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Human Rights Watch figures indicate that there have been three murders, four enforced disappearances and 24 arbitrary arrests on members of the opposition since the beginning of the year. The number is suspected to be higher since the human rights group could not verify more details of violations due to the government’s continuing clampdown on media.
Dozens of the opposition members have also been tortured for holding rallies in outright disregard of freedom of assembly which is guaranteed in Burundi’s constitution.
Burundi plunged into a low-grade conflict in April 2015 after Nkuruzinza was controversially elected for a third-term. Since then, an estimated 400,000 people have fled the country into neighboring Tanzania, DRC Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Burundi still continues to deny claims of human rights violations terming them as “lies from faraway”.
Human Rights Watch interviewed exiled Burundians who lamented that they left the country out fear of being targeted by the dreaded Imbonerakure militia group. Their sentiments were echoed by some members of the opposition who also fled the country after a national referendum following threats, intimidation and torture by the group.
In numerous occasions, United Nations has linked the Imbonerakure to the government and this has made it nearly impossible for victims to get justice within Burundi.
As the culture of impunity continues so has the terror on people and opposition members increased. In one incident, ten members of the opposition group were beaten up in Butihinda commune, Muyinga province.
One victim died on the spot, while another five were arrested. Eye witnesses recognized the attackers however no one has been brought to book.
A young man in his 20s fled the country after his father was killed for refusing to join the group. His father’s body was later discovered dumped in a river.
People who fled the country reported to Human Rights Watch that they were tortured after the 2018 national referendum for supporting the opposition party.
“Three men with grenades and batons, one in military clothes and boots, came into my house. They were a new team of Imbonerakure. They beat and kicked me a lot. They were saying: “Why don’t you join CNDD-FDD?” I responded “It’s my choice I don’t want to join a political party. I want to be left alone” a witness told the Human Rights Watch.
Cases of human rights violations in Burundi have forced the African Union Commission to intervene by urging Burundi to reopen collapsed inter-party talks within which the Commission has repeatedly said the solution to the current stalemate lies.
“There is no other alternative, the inclusive inter –Burundi dialogue must be resumed as soon as possible as it is, without any doubt, the only way to promote and strengthen national cohesion , thus enabling the restoration of peace , lasting security and reconciliation in this country,” Commissioner Smail Chergui said at the United Nations Security Council on June 14,2019.
Nonetheless President Pierre Nkurunzinza’s Communication Advisor, Willy Nyamitwe, dismissed Chergui’s recommendations. “What dialogue is he talking about? The same Commissioner for peace Chergui, guided by personal convictions, had worked on a project to send an invasion force to Burundi, the MAPROBU and failed,” Nyamitwe wrote in a brief response on his Twitter account.