Cases of human rights violations have surged as Burundi heads towards the May 2020 polls, a new report shows.
The Burundi Human Rights Initiative has pinned the abuse claims on the 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). The dreaded group is said to have embarked on a campaign of intimidation, in an attempt to force more people to join the governing party ahead of the elections. Testimonies collected by the organization reveal an alarming new pattern of suspicious deaths on opposition members as well as their supporters. In many instances authorities order immediate burial of bodies without proper identification making it difficult to know the cause of their deaths.
“Scores of CNL members have been ill-treated, and many more arbitrarily arrested and detained since the government registered the party. Arrests have taken place across the country, even in provinces that, until recently, had remained relatively calm, such as Rutana. At least nine CNL members were killed in Bujumbura, Muyinga, Kirundo, Ngozi, Muramvya and Karusi provinces between August and December 2019; the total number is likely to be higher. The circumstances around some of these deaths remain unclear, but the victims’ political affiliation and disputes with ruling party members are likely to have been factors in many of these cases. Other people have been targeted because they left the ruling party to join the CNL,” stated the report titled “A façade of peace in a land of fear.”
Sources revealed the existence of two cemeteries in Muyinga which were used to bury remains of opponents. In late 2018, seven bodies were brought to Nyamirambo from Karusi province and buried in one of the cemeteries. Witnesses described how police accompanied the bodies in their truck, where they were covered with a tarpaulin. It is suspected that they were strangled since there were ligature marks on the necks. To date the identities of the seven victims remains unknown. Another burial site is said to be located in Gatumba near DRC Congo.
Worse still some leaders have openly been accused of propagating hate among their supporters making it nearly impossible for the two camps to get along. A speech by the Senate President Révérien Ndikuriyo left many in shock after he publicly admitted to offering 5 million francs (US$2,780) in exchange of an opposition sympathizer’s head. He accused the unknown man of secretly giving military training to some members of CNL. “A single person can’t (be allowed to) disturb the security of the population. He must be eliminated. The only thing left to do is ask God if it’s a sin when He protects his lambs… (Ask) God since these people were in a bad situation, an entire commune of (people), if I remove the one threatening them, is that a fault? For the security of the country, you have to do some crazy things,” he said. Ndikuriyo was not held accountable for his words neither was the incident investigated by the police.
President Pierre Nkurunzinza recent appointment of Gervais Ndirakobuca alias Ndakugarika (“I will kill you” in Kirundi), into the powerful intelligence service positions has intensified the vicious political war. Ndirakobuca, who happens to be a close ally of Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, the Public Security Minister, is said to have facilitated some of the worst attacks against civilians since Burundi plunged into an upheaval in 2015. The opposition feels this is one of Nkurunzinza’s strategy to intimidate people in the run up to elections. On November Nkurunzinza whom CNDD-FDD members refer to as the “Eternal, Supreme Guide” issued a stern warning against those planning to go against the party.
“Starting in 2015, and going back to when the movement (the CNDD-FDD) was created in 1994, all those who were traitors, none of them were at peace… To have a good life in the CNDD-FDD, avoid being a traitor. And if you become a traitor, you’ll have problems… Even now, those who want to betray (us) exist. Yes, maybe there are even some among you… But I would like to tell you, whether you betray us or not, you will be cursed… no one who betrayed the CNDD-FDD had any luck. This is the advice I’m giving you” he said during a rally in Bujumbura city.
Despite Burundi past wave of mass tribal killings, some CNDD-FDD members still openly use abusive ethnic slurs against fellow politicians and civilians. In one particular incident, a Hutu government official mocked the death of a CNL party member Jean Prosper Hitimana saying he was killed not only because of his political affiliation but also because he is a Tutsi. Similar language has also been used in many occasions by the Imbonerakure especially when in Tutsi dominated areas.
During an interview with The Associated Press (AP), Burundi first Vice President Gaston Sindimwo dismissed the report as one of the many that come as rumors in order to create fear among Burundians.
“They have been saying so. There is nothing we can do so they may be satisfied. We are building our house and when it is fully built they will end up coming back to us. Let us mind our business, and let them mind their business,” he said