Thursday, July 31, 2014

Burundi: Fears mount amid escalating political violence and government crackdown

Source: Amnesty

Burundi’s ruling party is perpetrating a relentless campaign of intimidation against government critics and its youth wing is carrying out crimes with impunity ahead of next year’s election, warns Amnesty International in a report published today.

‘Locked down: A shrinking of political space’explores a crackdown on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and a sharp increase in politicized violence in Burundi linked to the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party.

“The government’s clampdown on free expression and peaceful assembly has serious implications for human rights ahead of next year’s elections,” said Tom Gibson, Amnesty International’s Burundi researcher.

Political tensions in Burundi have run high as President Nkurunziza looks to be pushing for a third presidential term, perceived by many as in violation of Burundi’s Constitution.

Opposition groups and civil society have been arbitrarily denied permission by the authorities to meet publicly or hold demonstrations through the use of the Law on Public Gatherings. A Press Law and draft law on non-profit organizations pose a further threat to free expression and peaceful assembly.

The youth wing of the CNDD-FDD, the Imbonerakure, have been responsible for intimidation, harassment and violence, attacking and even killing members of the political opposition with impunity. The report shows how one opposition member was shot and killed by two soldiers on the orders of a local official and an Imbonerakure member. Another opposition member had his teeth knocked out during a beating. “The Imbonerakure have strong links to the security services and are responsible for perpetrating human rights abuses with impunity. This is a cause for major concern,” said Tom Gibson.

“Allegations that they have been armed and trained need to be investigated, especially in light of reports of attacks and intimidation of opposition members.”

In April, a leaked internal cable sent by the UN Office in Burundi reported that two members of the military had, in one province, supplied the Imbonerakure and demobilized soldiers with weapons and military and police uniforms. These allegations have been denied by the government which dismissed a proposal by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide to establish an independent investigation commission into their substance.

A month later, a well-known human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, was arrested after claiming on the radio that young men were receiving arms and uniforms and travelling to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo for military training. His imprisonment sends a chilling signal to the rest of civil society that criticism will be dealt with harshly.

Amnesty International’s report explains how the Imbonerakure are part of mixed security committees which the government is establishing around the country. It also finds that the Imbonerakure are not only involved with security at a local level but also detain suspects and often exert control over the local police and administration. The government has confirmed that the Imbonerakure are supported by the state.

Allegations of abuses by the Imbonerakure have not been effectively investigated and the group’s members have avoided prosecution.

Amnesty International is calling on the African Union to consider all threats, including violations of civil and political rights in Burundi, within the framework of the Continental Early Warning System, which aims to anticipate and prevent the outbreak of conflict.

The organization is also calling on Burundian authorities to respect, protect and fulfil Burundians’ rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

“The clampdown in Burundi must be reversed, human rights must be restored and impunity must be ended,” said Tom Gibson.

“Burundi is a nation emerging from a long and troubling history of violent conflict. The government must open up space for legitimate criticism and stop further repression in the build-up to the 2015 elections.”