Burundi’s precarious political crisis has continued over the past six months, with refugees fleeing into neighbouring countries and pro-government youth militias like Imbonerakure murdering civilians and spreading terror across the country.
In its oral briefing to the UN Human Rights Council on 15 June 2017, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi expressed concern over the state’s ongoing violations of citizens’ fundamental rights, as well as human rights abuses committed by state security agents, the Imbonerakure, and other armed opposition groups. According to an extensive report released on 4 September 2017, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi since April 2015. These crimes take place within the context of serious human rights violations, including extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, inhuman or degrading treatment, and forced disappearances.  On 29 September 2017, the UN Human Rights Council voted to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry into human rights in Burundi.
 United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner, “Oral Briefing by Fatsah Ouguergouz, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi,” 14 June 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21760&LangID=E%20, Accessed 3 October 2017.
 United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner, “Rapport de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi,” 4 September 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoIBurundi/ReportHRC36/A_HRC_36_54_AEV.pdf, Accessed 3 October 2017.
The Burundian government continues to supress any form of political opposition or dissent. Key civil society leaders wanted by the Burundian justice system were excluded from participating in the inter-Burundian peace dialogue at the end of May 2017 in Entebbe, Uganda. Members of the opposition continue to be arbitrarily detained or disappeared altogether.
Edouard Nzambimana and Ladislas Sabukwigura, members of the National Liberation Front (FNL) party, were arrested on 15 May 2017 in Gitega province.  FNL activist Eric Ntirandekura was arrested on 23 May 2017 in Bubanza province – he had previously reported being threatened by members of the Imbonerakure militia prior to his arrest.
On 13 June 2017, Aimé Gatore, the representative of PARCEM in the District of Mbuye was arrested by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents in Muramvya. Emmanuel Nshimirimana, the representative of the PARCEM in the Province of Muramvya was arrested on 17 June 2017 by the NIS. The two HRDs were arrested while preparing a workshop aimed at assessing the conditions of detention in the Province Muramvya.
Germain Rukuki, an HRD working with the Association des juristes catholiques du Burundi (Association of Catholic Jurists of Burundi), was arrested after police searched his home without a warrant on 13 July 2017. He was detained for 14 days by the Service National de Renseignement (SNR), before being transferred to Ngozi prison without having appeared in court. On 17 August 2017, the Court of First Instance of Ntahangwa confirmed that Rukuki will remain in pre-trial detention on charges of “breaching the internal security of the State and rebellion.”
SOS Torture Burundi noted the detention of three men by Imbonerakure militias on 9 August 2017 in Kayanza province. Emmanuel Nzambimana, Emile Bankuwunguka, and Claude Nizigiyimana are teachers and members of opposition parties who, prior to their arrest, filed an official complaint against the Imbonerakure.
On 12 September 2017, the family of prominent opposition UPD member Leopold Habarugira reported his abduction in Bujumbura. Four men are reported to have leapt out of a car and taken him, one of whom was wearing a police uniform. Habarugira was one of the few opposition leaders to have remained in Burundi since the political crisis erupted in 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office.
Journalists operate in a highly threatening environment in Burundi and face many obstacles from the regime when covering breaking news and developments in an objective and thorough manner.
Antédeste Niragira, correspondent for the German radio and broadcaster Deutsche Welle in Burundi, was arrested by the DRC’s National Intelligence Agency on 17 May 2017 near the Burundian-Congolese border, while reporting on the conditions in the Kavimvira refugee camp in DRC. He was detained on charges of lacking accreditation and authorisation to enter the refugee camp, and on suspicion of espionage. He was handed over to the Burundian police on 22 May 2017, and released the next day.
Joseph Bananeno, a journalist from Radio Maria, was detained on 4 July 2017 on charges of “incitement to public disorder,” for sharing information on WhatsApp regarding an armed man who intended to shoot Archbishop Evariste Ngoyagoye in Bujumbura. Bananeno was released two days later after paying a fine of 50,000 BIF ($28 USD).
CCIB FM+ was temporarily shut down and taken off the air for three months by the National Council of Communication on 28 September 2017 for allegedly airing an editorial documentary critical of the authorities for their silence after the massacre of over 30 Burundian asylum seekers who were shot during a demonstration in Eastern DRC. By the same decision, the National Council of Communication also withdrew the broadcasting licenses of four independent outlets including RPA, Bonesha FM, Radio Renaissance, and Telé Renaissance. The government said the broadcast went against professional ethics as well as the laws governing the press.
On 1 October 2017, the correspondent of Bonesha FM in Makamba, Serges Sindayigaya, was arrested and detained under the order of the Governor of Makamba, Gad Niyukuru who demanded the journalist hand over his cell phone. After refusing, the governor reportedly snatched the phone and instructed the police to detain Serges. He was released after several hours.
 SOS Torture Burundi, “Report No. 75,” 20 May 2017, http://sostortureburundi.over-blog.com/2017/05/report-no.75-of-sos-torture/burundi-published-20-may-2017.html, Accessed 3 October 2017.
 SOS Torture Burundi, “Report No. 76,” 10 June 2017, http://sostortureburundi.over-blog.com/2017/06/report-no.78-of-sos-torture/burundi-published-on-10-june2017.html, Accessed 20 October 2017.
 Bonesha, “Droits de l’homme : Bujumbura accusé par la CBDDH d’avoir failli à la mission de protéger les défenseurs,” 31 July 2017, http://bonesha.bi/Droits-de-l-homme-Bujumbura-accuse.html, Accessed 16 October 207.
 Frontline Defenders, “Court confirms pre-trial detention of Germain Rukuki,” 21 August 2017, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/germain-rukuki-detained, Accessed 3 October 2017.
 SOS Torture, “Report No. 87 of SOS-Torture / Burundi,” 12 August 2017, http://sostortureburundi.over-blog.com/2017/08/report-n-87-of-sos-torture/burundi-published-on-12-august-2017.html, Accessed 3 October 2017.
 IWACU, “Family of Habarugira worried about his security,” 13 September 2017, http://www.iwacu-burundi.org/englishnews/family-of-habarugira-worried-about-his-security/, Accessed 20 October 2017.
 Deutsche Welle, “Le correspondant burundais est libre,” 24 May 2017, http://www.dw.com/fr/le-correspondant-burundais-est-libre/a-38954003, Accessed 3 October 2017.
 SOS Médias Burundi, “Bujumbura: Le journaliste de Radio Maria est libre,” 6 July 2017, https://www.facebook.com/sosmediasburundi/posts/1516248011770566, Accessed 20 October 2017.
 Daily Nation, “Burundi radio station suspended for criticising killings,” 30 September 2017, http://www.nation.co.ke/news/africa/Burundi-radio-station-suspended-criticising-killings/1066-4118228-dxgn1o/index.html, Accessed 3 October 2017.
 SOS Médias Burundi, “Radio correspondent bonesha fm arrested,” 1 October 2017, https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1598253840236649&id=912887052106668, Accessed 16 October 2017.
Highlights of our advocacy work at the 39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Eulalie Nibizi is a Burundian human rights defender (HRD) living in exile in Uganda, and since 2017 has been the Coordinator of the Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme (CBDDH). The CBDDH was founded in 2009 to promote civic and democratic space in...
Despite being forced into exile after April 2015, many Burundian HRDs continue their work. A new report examines the challenges they face.
DefendDefenders examines Burundi's abysmal record as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
DefendDefenders examines the challenges journalists face, and provides an overview of the various strategies they have used to circumvent and continue their work amid these restrictions