Burundi’s commitment to human rights seems to be unravelling. Following a series of deadly attacks by unidentified armed groups, the government’s diplomatic language of peace and security has given way to a more sinister reality. Dozens of political opponents have been arbitrarily arrested on accusations of collaborating with armed groups. Many were detained incommunicado at the intelligence headquarters in Bujumbura, where some were tortured to extract confessions or other information. The number of individuals abducted by people believed to be intelligence agents or police has increased sharply in recent months. Some have not been seen again.
The Burundi Human Rights Initiative’s report, “Behind the gate: a rise in torture and disappearances”, documents these alarming developments since and describes the violent record of Moïse Arakaza, police commissioner of Mugamba, Bururi province, until . Arakaza has arrested and tortured numerous people who he claimed supported the armed opposition. His favourite torture techniques include hitting detainees with the flat side of a machete, rubbing hot chilli pepper in their noses and threatening to kill them. He has also extorted huge sums of money from detainees in exchange for their release, in defiance of the government’s anti-corruption rhetoric. Arakaza’s systematic brutality is well known, but the authorities have refused to take any action against him.
President Évariste Ndayishimiye pays lip service to human rights and justice, but turns a blind eye to these crimes. If he wants to be seen as credible, he should put an end to the vicious behaviour of certain hardline intelligence and police officials and to the impunity that protects them. The deteriorating human rights situation should raise a red flag for international actors: don’t take at face value the government’s lofty human rights promises while it continues to torture and disappear suspected opponents.
The report is available in English and French. An audio summary of the report is available in Kirundi.