Independent International Inquiry Needed
NEW YORK, United States of America, April 13, 2016 – The findings of a Burundian commission of inquiry into allegations of extrajudicial executions by members of the security forces on December 11, 2015, in the capital, Bujumbura, are misleading and biased, Human Rights Watch said today. This is one of several official inquiries that have failed to properly investigate security force abuses or hold those responsible to account.
The inquiry focused on reports of abuses during the most deadly operation by the Burundian security forces since the country’s crisis began in April. Human Rights Watch found that police and military shot dead scores of people in Nyakabiga and Musaga neighborhoods, apparently in retaliation for opposition attacks on four military installations, and for heavy shooting at security forces by gunmen in these neighborhoods.
“This is the latest in a series of commissions of inquiry in Burundi that has ignored widespread abuses by the security forces,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These inquiries have covered up state abuses and have not led to justice.”
The Prosecutor General, Valentin Bagorikunda, set up an inquiry into the December 11 events on December 17, 2015. Summarizing the inquiry’s main conclusions on March 10, 2016, he did not mention killings or abuses of Bujumbura residents by the security forces. He claimed that those killed on December 11 were armed “combatants” wearing police or military uniforms.
Since 2010, there have been at least seven commissions of inquiry into allegations of killings and other abuses. Most of them have denied or downplayed serious abuses by state agents.
Human Rights Watch documented the killings of December 11 in detail and found no indications that the victims had participated in the attacks on the military installations. Some victims were found lying side by side, face down, and appeared to have been shot in the back or the head. Others survived with serious injuries. The security forces also carried out large-scale arbitrary arrests in both neighborhoods.
In March, two United Nations special rapporteurs and one from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights visited Burundi to investigate human rights abuses at the request of the UN Human Rights Council. They plan to return in June and send a small team of human rights monitors to be based in the country.
Presenting their interim report to the Human Rights Council on March 22, Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said: “The overt violence of last year seems to have subsided. At the same time covert violence, for example, in the form of disappearances, seems to have increased… There are some in [the Burundian] government who seem to be open to change. Others, however, are in denial anything is wrong.”
Given the Burundian justice system’s inability or unwillingness to conduct credible and thorough investigations, an independent, international commission of inquiry is needed to establish the truth about the grave abuses in Burundi in the past year and support the efforts of the special rapporteurs, Human Rights Watch said.
An international commission with expertise in criminal and forensic investigations would conduct in-depth inquiries with a view to establishing individual responsibility for the most serious crimes. It would probe deeper into these crimes, complementing the work of UN and African Union human rights observers in Burundi as well as the Human Rights Council’s initiatives.
Burundian government officials have repeatedly claimed there is peace and security throughout the country, despite the fact that several hundred people have been killed over the past year and many others arbitrarily arrested, tortured or disappeared. The minister of human rights, social affairs and gender, Martin Nivyabandi, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 22 that, “the situation is normalizing” and that, “Burundi today couldn’t be a land where impunity reigns.”
“Contrary to the minister’s statement, impunity has been at the heart of Burundi’s political system for years and is one of the principal causes of the current human rights crisis,” Bekele said.
Serious new abuses were reported throughout March and early April. Scores of people have been arrested and others taken away to unknown destinations by the police or intelligence services. Ruling party officials, police, and members of the ruling party youth league known as Imbonerakure arrested at least 16 members of the opposition party National Liberation Forces (FNL) at a bar in Kirundo province on March 12. The police spokesman, Pierre Nkurikiye, claimed they were conducting a political meeting without authorization.
Armed opposition groups have also been responsible for abuses. Unidentified men killed two ruling party officials in Bururi and Makamba provinces on March 15.
Since early 2016, the intelligence services have intensified surveillance of human rights activists, journalists, and other perceived critics, making it even more difficult to document and expose abuses and putting the few activists who remain at even greater risk.
Tensions were heightened on March 22, after an unidentified gunman shot dead Lt. Col. Darius Ikurakure, a military commander reportedly involved in many abuses, at the army headquarters in Bujumbura. Later that day, residents of Bujumbura reported that security forces arrested several people. That night, another military officer, Major Didier Muhimpundu, was killed in Bujumbura. An opposition group, the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forces républicaines du Burundi, FOREBU), later claimed responsibility for Ikurakure’s death.
“The government’s claims that Burundi is calm and that security is improving aren’t true,” Bekele said. “The recent killing of the military officials has heightened tensions, and many people are being arrested or simply go missing.”