New report looks back two year of terror in Burundi

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“From the outbreak of the political crisis in Burundi, 1,200 people were killed, between 400 and 900 victims of forced disappearance, many thousands were tortured, several hundred or even thousands of people tortured, and over 10,000 people arbitrarily detained. More than 400,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.”

The alarming data are contained in the new study by the International Federation of Human Rights ((known by its French acronym, FIDH), which denounces how in the East African nation is under way the total elimination of the opposition and the establishment of a dictatorship led by President Pierre Nkurunziza .

The framework drawn up by the humanitarian organization is a very good one: ethnic cleansing campaigns within the armed forces and the amendment of the constitution, promulgated in 2005, to remove the limit of two presidential mandates, allowing Nkurunziza to remain in power.

Although it is almost impossible for independent observers – especially NGOs and journalists – to access Burundi’s territory, the report presents an alarming picture of developments that have occurred over the last few months in the country. Plunged into a spiral of endless violence since April 2015, when Nkurunziza has decided to recruit for a third term.

La relazione rileva che tutti i componenti dello Stato e della società civile sono sottoposti alla medesima repressione, orchestrata da un regime ossessionato dal voler rimanere al potere a tutti i costi. Nel Paese i media indipendenti sono censurati o bloccati e i difensori dei diritti umani e i giornalisti sono messi a tacere, mentre gli oppositori politici vengono sistematicamente minacciati, perseguitati e spesso eliminati.

Secondo la FIDH, in oltre due anni di proteste, le uccisioni e i rastrellamenti sono stati all’ordine del giorno. A tutto questo si somma una campagna di repressione violenta verso tutti i presunti oppositori, anche all’interno del partito al potere, il Consiglio nazionale per la difesa della democrazia-Forze per la difesa della democrazia (CNDD-FDD).

The report notes that all members of the State and of civil society are subjected to the same repression, orchestrated by a regime obsessed with retaining power at all cost. Independent media are censored or blocked in the country, and human rights defenders and journalists are silenced, while political opponents are systematically threatened, persecuted, often killed.

According to FIDH, in more than two years of protests, killing and sweeps have been on the order of the day. All this adds a campaign of violent repression to all alleged opponents, including within the ruling party, the National Democratic Defense Council – Democratic Defense Forces (CNDD-FDD).

For instance, on December 28th 2016, Jean Luc Manirakiza, secretary of the CNDD-FDD headquarters in the Cankuzo district, was arrested and detained by the police, on the grounds that he had not participated in the “Crusade for giving thanks” organized by President Nkurunziza, in late December 2016 in the Rutana district and because he was suspected of not being loyal enough to the party.

Misdeeds are almost always carried out with the support of the National Intelligence Services (SNR – Service National de Renseignement) and Imbonerakure militants (the Kirundi word for “those that see far”) the youth wing of the ruling party, considered a real militia by the United Nations.

The report highlights that a considerable part of the Imbonerakure is militarily trained and used by the regime to impose its repressive policy and control the population, as well as spread the ideology of the party.

To date, the exact number of Imbonerakure remains unknown. Some estimates indicate they could amount to dozens – or even hundreds – of thousands. At least 20,000 personnel actively participate in repression against civilians and alleged regime opponents.

Some of the Imbonerakure members have been part of the security forces for quite some time already, but their role in the Burundian repressive system seems to have grown in importance throughout 2016 and the beginning of 2017.

The techniques used by the militia to control the population include extortion, kidnapping, torture and rape. The FIDH report also shows extreme concern for the chanted slogans of hate and the violence shouted during recent demonstrations of the youth wing of the ruling party.

A video released early April on the internet and social media shows about two hundred Imbonerakure, who during a rally in the town of Ntega, in Kirundo district, northeast Burundi, repeatedly sing that opponents “should die”, to call to “impregnate the opponents so that they give birth to Imbonerakure.”

The same ritual has been repeated in Bujumbura, on May 6, when a group of about twenty Imbonerakure was pitching the same slogans near the central Independence Square.

President Pierre Nkuruziza’s party has publicly condemned songs, but it should not be forgotten that high government officials have been organizing such events.

The study also states that Ligue Iteka, a human rights advocacy group, claims that over the last two years hundreds of girls and women with links to political opponents have been raped by men apparently belonging to the Imbonerakure.

The report does not lack criticism for the work of the international community, which has not been firm in two years, and has not been able to implement the decisions taken, in particular the measures to protect the civilian population and the resumption of political dialogue.

A laxity that has allowed President Nkurunziza to deeply reshape Burundi’s political, social and security framework while at the same time implementing a party and personality cult.

A cult put into practice by erecting monuments to the glory of the CNDD-FDD in every corner of the country, witnessing how Nkurunziza has succeeded in transforming its elected presidency into a dictatorship of fact.


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