By Millicent Zighe
The European parliament has adopted a resolution denouncing grave human rights violations occurring in Burundi.
With elections fast approaching, the country has come under more scrutiny from international communities for widespread human rights abuses committed by the ruling party in collaboration with security forces and the Imbonerakure militia group. The European Union has stated that it is of the opinion that the current environment is not conducive for holding free and fair elections especially when freedom of expression is nonexistent. They further urged the country to lift measures that limit or obstruct the work of non-governmental organizations. Almost all civil societies have been suspended amid continued crackdown designed to silence dissent
.“We are deeply condemn the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, in particular for real and suspected supporters of the opposition including the Burundians who return from abroad, ” stated the non-binding resolution passed in Brussels, Belgium on January 16 2020.
The parliament also called for the United Nations (UN) to impose restrictive measures on individuals responsible for abuses in the country. They vowed to compile a new list of the perpetrators with the view of adding them to the list of those Burundian officials already under European Union sanctions.
“The European parliament calls for the expansion of the EU’s targeted sanctions and urges the UN Security Council to impose its own targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against individuals responsible for ongoing serious human rights violations in Burundi,” the resolution said.
Additionally, the legislatures reacted to the plight of Iwacu Press Limited journalists detained on October 22 2019 while covering clashes in Bubanza Province, Northwestern Burundi. They asked the authorities to drop charges against the four reporters namely Christine Kamikazi, Agnes Ndirubusa, Terence Mpozenzi and Egide Harerimana calling their arrest part of the continued deterioration of human rights violations ahead of the 2020 elections.
The case involving journalists is the latest to make headlines; however, the media industry in the country has long been operating under a climate of fear and intimidation, forcing hundreds of journalists to seek exile in other countries. In 2019, the operating licenses of BBC and VOA were revoked ultimately leading to their closure. Burundi media regulator National Communication Council (CNC) accused BBC of airing a ‘slanderous, deceitful and scathing’ documentary about secret torture and detention sites while VOA was banned for employing a reporter believed to be have taken part in the failed coup of May 2015.
During an interview with Iwacu Press Limited, the lead advocate of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Tom Gibson lauded the European Parliament for their support against the incarcerated journalists.
“The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today’s resolution by the European Parliament calling, among other things, for the release of IWACU journalists. This shows that there is real international support for press freedom in Burundi. The Burundian authorities must now release the journalists without further delay, and the EU institutions must continue to raise their voices until they are released. They must remember that they are not alone and that the European Parliament stands in solidarity with them – and that international calls for their release continue. EU diplomats in Bujumbura must now play their part in continuing to take all possible measures to defend and support journalists,” he stated.
President Pierre Nkurunzinza has since promised not to contest in the coming elections. The secretary-general of Burundi ruling party CNDD-FDD Evariste Ndayishimiye has been chosen for the candidature.