President Évariste Ndayishimiye during his swearing-in ceremony in Gitega, 18 June 2020. ©2020 Private
President Évariste Ndayishimiye during his swearing-in ceremony in Gitega, .
President Évariste Ndayishimiye during his swearing-in ceremony in Gitega, . © Private

Justice for political killings

An open letter to President Évariste Ndayishimiye

Dear Mr President,

We write to you following your recent swearing-in as president of Burundi. We express our condolences for the sudden death of your predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, and wish you strength and courage at this significant moment for your country.

As you take on your new role, an important responsibility has fallen on your shoulders: ending the political violence and impunity that have devastated the lives of so many Burundians.

Your public condemnations of political violence and commitments to ending impunity have been encouraging. In your inauguration speech on , you underlined the importance of respect for human rights and justice, and you stated: “We want all offences to be punished. Every person who commits an offence, whether they are a member of the government or not, should be brought to justice. We don’t want any offence to be ignored to avoid this becoming a source of conflict as in the past.” Previously, as secretary-general of the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), you stated in a speech in Rumonge on that “the words ‘political intolerance’ will not be heard again... Stop saying ‘this person should be punished and not that person’. Impunity is harmful.”

It is high time to translate these pledges into action and ensure that the hopes they generated are not dashed. If you send a strong signal – through actions, not just words – that perpetrators of serious human rights violations, including those in senior positions, will be held accountable, others will be less likely to use violence or order their subordinates to do so. We believe that progress in delivering justice would also help ease post-election concerns about the trajectory of the country and improve Burundi’s relations with international partners.

We realise that as Burundi’s new president, you will face numerous competing challenges and priorities, and will have to manage the interests of powerful individuals. But many Burundians – those who voted for you as well as those who didn’t – yearn for progress in restoring their fundamental rights.

The Burundi Human Rights Initiative recently published its research findings on the cases of six Burundians who were killed because of their political affiliations between and . Most were members of the Congrès national pour la liberté (CNL), the CNDD-FDD’s main competitor during the elections.

According to our investigations, members of the youth league of the party that you headed for the last four years, the Imbonerakure, were responsible for most of these crimes. In Ngozi province, they attacked a 22-year-old bar owner, Évariste Nyabenda, when he tried to stop them from beating his fellow CNL members in ; he died in from his injuries. A month later, in Bujumbura province, Désiré Ntahondabasigiye, a local CNL representative, was shot dead through a window of his house while he was eating dinner with his wife and children; two Imbonerakure with guns were seen near his house. More recently, in , only two weeks before the elections, Imbonerakure abducted Richard Havyarimana, a local CNL representative in Mwaro province. He was found dead in a river three days later, with deep gashes on his head. He left behind a young widow and a 3-month old baby.

In some of these cases, Imbonerakure acted in collusion with – or with the apparent support of – local government officials or local CNDD-FDD representatives. For example, our investigations revealed that the administrator of a commune in Gitega province ordered Imbonerakure to kill Jean Bosco Ngabirano, a CNL member, after an argument in a bar in . His body was found the next day, with markings of what appeared to have been a severe beating. In Muyinga, a commune administrator reportedly praised Imbonerakure who had been part of a group who beat Fauzia Basesuwabo – a CNL member –, her husband and their three sons; Basesuwabo died from her injuries in , a few days after the beating.

In other cases, state agents are reported to have carried out killings themselves. In , Albert Niyondiko, who was suspected of supporting the armed opposition, was shot dead on the doorstep of a shack in Bururi province, in an operation by the police and intelligence services, who ordered his immediate burial.

Only in the Mwaro case are the suspected perpetrators of the killing still in detention. In the other five cases, they were either never arrested or released after a few days. Imbonerakure, local government officials or police continued threatening some of the victims’ families after the killings to try to stifle the truth.

Évariste, Désiré, Richard, Jean Bosco, Fauzia and Albert are just a few of the victims of political violence that has swept through Burundi in the period leading up to the elections. Their deaths should not be minimised or forgotten like so many others have been in Burundi. Many more people have been killed, abducted, seriously injured or arbitrarily arrested during the pre-election period, in almost all cases without accountability. CNDD-FDD members have also been subjected to violence and deserve justice too.

You hold one of the keys to Burundi’s future: justice. You can end interference in the justice system. Brazen disregard for the rule of law has stained Burundi’s image on the world stage. You can rectify this by publicly encouraging prosecutions of state agents, Imbonerakure and CNDD-FDD representatives, as well as members of other political parties involved in such crimes.

Delivering justice for the families of these six victims, among others, would be an important demonstration of your commitment to end impunity and could restore faith among the families of other victims of political killings that justice can be done. Visible progress on these six cases would also allow the broader population to regain confidence in the justice system.

Most importantly, it would show that as president, you are willing to turn the page on the past and stand up for all Burundians, as you have promised to do multiple times. To those who still doubt your willingness to enact such reforms, commit yourself to showing them that they are wrong and that your presidency marks the beginning of a new era in Burundi.

The Burundi Human Rights Initiative is ready to discuss these six cases with the relevant authorities and hopes you will be willing to engage in a constructive dialogue on human rights reforms in Burundi as you lead the country forward.

Yours sincerely,

The Burundi Human Rights Initiative

Download the open letter in English, French or Kirundi.

For further information about the series, read “The Deadly Price of Opposition”.

Supporters of Burundi’s ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, attend a campaign rally of their presidential candidate, Évariste Ndayishimiye, at the Bugendana stadium in Gitega province, 27 April 2020. ©2020 Private
Supporters of Burundi’s ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, attend a campaign rally of their presidential candidate, Évariste Ndayishimiye, at the Bugendana stadium in Gitega province, .
Supporters of Burundi’s ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, attend a campaign rally of their presidential candidate, Évariste Ndayishimiye, at the Bugendana stadium in Gitega province, . © Private

Burundi Election Statement

International inertia as election tensions flare in Burundi

Once again, Burundi is at a crossroads. Will it turn the page on violence and impunity or lapse into revenge killings?

After provisional results declared that Évariste Ndayishimiye won the presidential elections and his ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, won the legislative and local elections, Burundians are worried that violence may escalate in the coming months.

The opposition CNL claimed that hundreds of its members were arrested, that serious fraud took place during the vote and that it was the rightful winner. The Catholic Church of Burundi, one of the few independent organisations that deployed election observers, issued a statement detailing widespread abuses and irregularities.

International actors’ silence in the face of serious violence before the elections is deeply worrying. Their reluctance to confront the CNDD-FDD about recent abuses will only embolden those in power to continue acting with impunity.

The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) calls on international actors to condemn the political violence unequivocally and urge party leaders to hold their members to account.

Download BHRI’s election statement of in English or in French.

Évariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s ruling party secretary general (left), and President Pierre Nkurunziza (right) at the national prayer service in Gitega on 25 January 2020. The following day, the ruling party chose Ndayishimiye as its candidate for the 2020 presidential election. ©2020 Private
Évariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s ruling party secretary general (left), and President Pierre Nkurunziza (right) at the national prayer service in Gitega on . The following day, the ruling party chose Ndayishimiye as its candidate for the presidential election.
Évariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s ruling party secretary general (left), and President Pierre Nkurunziza (right) at the national prayer service in Gitega on . The following day, the ruling party chose Ndayishimiye as its candidate for the presidential election. © Private

Party loyalist or reformer?

The man who could become Burundi’s next president

Évariste Ndayishimiye, nicknamed Neva, is a man of many faces. A former rebel combatant, he has headed Burundi’s ruling party since mid- and may soon inherit the mantle of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is due to stand down in after 15 years in power.

This briefing paper paints a portrait of Ndayishimiye and highlights the human rights challenges that await him if he wins the elections. Ndayishimiye’s past, and the circumstances in which he was chosen as the ruling party candidate, bind him intimately with powerful political and military actors, some of whom have committed serious crimes. Will he have the resolve to stand up to them and take a strong stand against human rights violations?

Despite the global corona virus pandemic, which could have devastating consequences in Burundi, the Burundian authorities have so far insisted that elections will go ahead as planned on , with the official campaign period beginning on .

The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) has therefore decided to publish this paper in the hope that the information will prove useful during the coming months – a critical period for policy makers to adopt strategies to end Burundi’s human rights crisis.

The briefing paper entitled “Party loyalist or reformer? The man who could become Burundi’s next president” is available in English and French.

Ruling party supporters salute during a rally in support of the constitutional referendum in Bujumbura on 14 May 2018. ©2020 Private
Ruling party supporters salute during a rally in support of the constitutional referendum in Bujumbura on .
Ruling party supporters salute during a rally in support of the constitutional referendum in Bujumbura on . © Private

A façade of peace in a land of fear

Behind Burundi’s human rights crisis

In its report, “A façade of peace in a land of fear: Behind Burundi’s human rights crisis”, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative reveals what Burundi’s government doesn’t want you to know: the human rights crisis continues as the country heads towards elections in .

The ruling party has attempted to cover up brutal acts of political violence in which scores of government opponents have been quietly arrested, abducted or killed. Members of the ruling party youth league, the Imbonerakure, have discarded bodies under the cover of darkness and sometimes buried them in cemeteries, far from where the victims were abducted or killed.

The government insists that the country is peaceful and safe. But Burundians know the truth: if you oppose the government, you risk your life. As fear has spread among the population, silence has become a form of protection. A Burundian summed it up best: “Look and keep quiet. Even if someone is raped, even if your brother is killed, don’t say anything.”

BHRI’s report shines a light on the violence and those orchestrating it and analyses the political dynamics that allow the perpetrators of these crimes to act with impunity. As Burundi heads towards elections in , there is a window of opportunity for action. Burundian and international actors should seize the moment to prevent a further escalation of Burundi’s human rights crisis.

The report entitled “A façade of peace in a land of fear: Behind Burundi’s human rights crisis” is available in English and French. A summary of the report is available in Kirundi.

What is the Burundi Human Rights Initiative?

The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) is an independent human rights project that aims to document the evolving human rights situation in Burundi, with a particular focus on events linked to the elections. It intends to expose the drivers of human rights violations with a view to establishing an accurate record that will help bring justice to Burundians and find a solution to the ongoing human rights crisis.

The BHRI’s publications will also analyse the political and social context in which these violations occur to provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of human rights trends in Burundi.

The BHRI has no political affiliation. Its investigations cover human rights violations by the Burundian government as well as abuses by armed opposition groups.

Carina Tertsakian, Lane Hartill and Thijs Van Laer lead the BHRI and are its principal researchers. They have worked on human rights issues in Burundi and the Great Lakes region of Africa for many years. The BHRI’s reports are the products of their collaboration with a wide range of people inside and outside Burundi.

Contact us

The BHRI welcomes feedback on its publications as well as further information about the human rights situation in Burundi. Please write to

contact@burundihri.org or +1 267 896 3399
(WhatsApp).

A view from a hill in Cibitoke province. On the night of 16 to 17 November 2019, a Burundian military position was attacked in the Kibira forest, in Mabayi commune, and many soldiers were reportedly killed. ©2020 Private
A view from a hill in Cibitoke province. On the night of to , a Burundian military position was attacked in the Kibira forest, in Mabayi commune, and many soldiers were reportedly killed.
A view from a hill in Cibitoke province. On the night of to , a Burundian military position was attacked in the Kibira forest, in Mabayi commune, and many soldiers were reportedly killed. © Private

© The Burundi Human Rights Initiative