By Millicent Zighe
The leader of a dreaded youth militia in Burundi has been named the head of national broadcaster – Burundi National Radio and Television (RTNB).
Eric Nshimirimana, the leader of Imbonerakure youth militia was appointed the chief of the State broadcaster by a presidential decree signed by President Pierre Nkurunziza on July 3, 2019, in a move that sparked outrage from civil rights groups.
Human Rights Watch termed the decision “a big blow to all victims of the abuses perpetrated by the Imbonerakure as well as of the freedom of press in Burundi.”
Nshimirimana assumed office on July 11.
The militia group, which is allied to Burundi’s ruling party, National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), has been accused of human rights violations including murder, torture, forceful disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
Nonetheless, Burundi government has continued to deny those claims terming them as “lies from faraway”
Many human rights groups are now asking for a reversal of the decision because of rampant human rights violations attributed to the group.
“Under his leadership as the head of Imbonerakure, he allowed the abuses. These abuses, including arrests, intimidation, extortion and murder, continue again today,” Lewis Mudge, Central African Head of Human Rights Watch told BBC.
The decision has also been condemned by journalists who have also faced the wrath of the group on several occasions.
Imbonerakure waged a war of torture and intimidation against media houses forcing journalists to flee the country for fear of their lives.
One journalist, under anonymity, termed Nshimirimana’s appointment as a way to sensationalize Burundi media ahead of the highly anticipated 2020 elections.
“RTNB has been in the service of the ruling party for a long time and the appointment of such as a DG means that this time we will have no room for maneuver in the run-up to the 2020 elections,” the journalist said.
His sentiments were echoed by a member of the opposition party – FRODEBU – who lamented that Nkurunzinza was planning to seek another term in office hence making Nshimirimana as the head will guarantee the ruling party more coverage in the coming election.
Human Rights Watch group now want Nshimirimana to be held accountable for the atrocities conducted under his leadership.
“Nshimirimana should be accountable for what happened under his leadership (at the head of Imbonerakure), instead of being rewarded by this appointment to the leadership of one of the country’s last media.”
Imbonerakure rose to prominence after Nkurunzinza was controversially elected for a third term in April 2015.
Nkurunzinza, following his reelection, picked Nshirimana to head the youth militia group which is said to have 50,000 members nationwide.
Since then an estimated 400,000 people have fled the country into the neighboring Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and DRC Congo.