The implementation of the Arusha agreement in August2000 and the five-year development of a transitional government hinging on power sharing institutions, marked what many assumed to be the end of long standing ethnic violence in Burundi between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples. At the time of his election in August 2005, the international community was viewing Pierre Nkurunziza’s presidency and his commitment to democracy as a beam of light contrasting centuries of ethnic violence between the Hutu and Tutsi. Tensions between these groups and deplorable human rights abuses in Burundi date back as far as the 1400s when Tutsi settlers first arrived in the region. Unfortunately, mass killings and disappearances, media suppression, and the use of rape and torture as government sponsored intimidation methods have proven to be both chronic and widespread conditions plaguing the Burundian people, particularly those who are rumored to be aligned with the opposition party. After winning the 2010 presidential election that was boycotted by opposition parties and voters and then seeking an unconstitutional third presidential term in 2015, President Nkuruziza has made it clear that he has little intention of allowing a peaceful transition of power in this already fragile state.
Government officials have denounced accusations of human rights abuses, stating that citizens killed in police raids, namely those murdered in the village of Bujumbura in December 2015, were opposition combatants in military garb. The United Nations has recently alleged that the Pro-regime youth rebel group, the Imbonerakure, are engaging in militia-like actions aimed to terrorize opposition party members. President Nkurunziza has rebutted these statements, claiming that they are unfounded and fabricated in order to disrupt Burundi’s healing process following many years of civil war.
President Nkurunziza and his ruling party have received widespread criticism from the international community. In March 2016, the EU officially suspended all direct financial support to the Burundian government, stating that the Burundian government had failed to meet basic requirements to maintain financial assistance. Burundi relied heavily on the EU’s monetary contributions which compose over half of the country’s annual budget. As a response, the Burundian parliament voted to suspend its relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN Commission for Human Rights. President Nkurunziza also refused to admit 228 unarmed UN peacekeepers into the country in August 2015. The African Union (AU) has attempted to build a coalition of human rights observers in Burundi, and in January 2016, the AU suggested the deployment of 5,000 peacekeeping forces, but the Burundian government refused. President Nkurunziza said such move would constitute foreign occupation and thus an attack on Burundi’s national sovereignty.
The perpetuated human rights violations in Burundi have led to a mass exodus of people seeking refuge in neighboring countries. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported in July 2017 that the number of refugees fleeing Burundi reached 416,092. Tanzania and Rwanda have absorbed much of the burden of housing this large refugee population; however, resources are dwindling and both governments are calling for more inter-Burundian dialogue and for stronger resolution efforts to be made by the African Union. An additional 85,000 Burundians are expected to seek refugee status by the end of this year if current political and human rights conditions persist.
Written by Madison Stewart