The series “The Deadly Price of Opposition” explores how Burundians have lost their lives to political killings since late . The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI) is publishing these cases to keep them in the public eye and maintain pressure on the Burundian authorities to deliver justice.
These cases represent just a small proportion of politically motivated killings in Burundi in the period leading up to the elections. Killings and other serious human rights violations against opposition members – a feature of the political landscape in Burundi for many years – increased sharply in the second half of and the first half of . BHRI hopes that by shining a light on a few emblematic cases, it can also help bring about positive developments in other cases – and ultimately help prevent further political violence.
The National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD) was declared the winner of the presidential, legislative and local elections on . The results were strongly contested by the largest opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (Congrès national pour la liberté, CNL), which alleged large-scale rigging and claimed that close to 400 of its members were arrested and arbitrarily detained during and after the election period. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi – one of the few independent organisations to have deployed election observers – also reported numerous irregularities.
There is a pressing need for the country to move on from the political, human rights and economic crisis that has devastated Burundi since . However, the lives lost before the elections cannot be swept under the carpet – as has been done so many times in Burundi’s bloody history. The new government has a duty to make impunity a thing of the past and to prevent revenge attacks and further political violence.
BHRI has investigated each of the cases in this series. The accounts are based on in-depth interviews with multiple eyewitnesses and other sources close to these events, and supporting documents where available. BHRI has not revealed the identity of witnesses for their protection.
BHRI has submitted its findings on these cases to Burundian government and judicial officials, as well as to the leadership of the CNDD-FDD. BHRI will continue to call for action on these and other cases until there is a credible process to bring to justice those responsible for political killings.
In the majority of cases featured in this series, the victims were members of the CNL – the main rival to the CNDD-FDD in the elections. BHRI chose these cases because of their particular brutality and because they highlight the involvement of local government or ruling party officials and the impunity that protects them. Most of the alleged perpetrators were members of the CNDD-FDD youth league, the Imbonerakure, sometimes acting in collusion with local government officials and local CNDD-FDD representatives. In one case study, police or members of the intelligence services killed individuals accused of being members of the armed opposition.
Public reactions by Burundian government and CNDD-FDD officials to these killings have ranged from silence and apparent indifference to categorical denials and statements blaming the opposition for most or all of the violence. There have been few credible investigations into these cases, and even fewer credible prosecutions.
Typically, the Imbonerakure allegedly involved in these killings have escaped justice, while CNL members or acquaintances of the victims have been arrested in their place, often arbitrarily and on trumped-up charges. A few Imbonerakure have been arrested, but most have been released within a short period. Some have continued threatening the victims’ families, even after killing their relatives. Many families are too afraid to demand justice, so the cases are effectively shelved.
Several Imbonerakure and other CNDD-FDD members have also been killed or injured in and , some in clashes with CNL members, others in circumstances that remain unclear. BHRI has attempted to investigate several of these cases and requested further information from the Burundian government and the CNDD-FDD, but has not yet been able to confirm the identity of the perpetrators or whether these killings were politically motivated.
The cases featured in this series will be a test for Burundi’s newly elected president, Évariste Ndayishimiye, and for the national justice system. During the pre-election period, Ndayishimiye repeatedly proclaimed his commitment to ending impunity, including for political violence. He now has a chance to demonstrate that commitment by advocating for justice for the families of the victims and ensuring they are not forgotten.