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Despite the persistent assurance of the government, and notably President Pierre Nkurunziza leader of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD) inquiry on human rights in the Republic of Burundi has been sustained. The inquiry has been precipitated by Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, and subsequently the International Criminal Court in 2017. In addition, the inquiry was exacerbated by the constitutional referendum which made Nkurunziza’s government eligible to extending their rule until 2034.
In March, the United Nations Human Rights Office in the city of Bujumbura was shut down. In the shadow of the looming 2020 elections, the political situation in Burundi is presenting itself dire. An environment of fear and suspicion is especially felt by those who share any form of discontent with the incumbent national leadership. In addition, media outlets, as well as human rights organizations have been extremely restricted. The media crackdown is evident as a multitude of media outlets such as BBC have had their licences recently withdrawn as well as the recent arrest of four Burundian journalists under the grounds of undermining state security. The United Nations General Assembly report warned: “Arbitrary arrest and detention on political grounds have continued” suggesting a culture of impunity leaving little space for democratic freedoms leading up to the 2020 election. Violent attacks on civilians and lack of human rights oversight in the country has largely inhibited capacities to observe and report. The lack of due process parallels that of 2015 in which there was an attempted military coup on the incumbent CNDD–FDD. Amnesty International described the coup, “Burundian police used excessive lethal force, including against women and children, to silence those opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term.” The remnants of the 2015 conflict are very much alive as the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure have facilitated a continuation of violent practices of 2015. They have been named as the UN to be the main perpetrators of the recent violence in Burundi, including acts of rape, torture, and execution of civilians.
These acts violate many provisions of the Geneva Protocols of 1949, as well as the Additional Protocol I which protects the rights of civilians. Furthermore, the narrowing space for democracy in Burundi, and the grave human rights violations in which the government and its subsidiaries are committing present yet another dilemma for human rights and state sovereignty in the 21st century. The government’s disregard of International Humanitarian Law leaves little room for the international community to navigate the complex humanitarian situation. Despite this, the reopening of the UN Human Rights Office in Bujumbura should be a central objective. Such an office is critical for providing not only the oversight on human rights violations but also essential political support in regards to the upcoming election next year.