Africa

Burundi rejects UN accusations of crimes against humanity

The UN is accusing Burundi's government of severe human rights violations. Burundi says it is the target of an international conspiracy. Is this case headed for the International Criminal Court in The Hague?

A soldier in Burundi, with a street and fire in the background

Two plainclothes men threatened to break down her door, a young woman from Burundi told Deutsche Welle. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, remembers being so afraid she told her young daughters and nieces to hide under their beds.

The intruders found radio programs critical of the government on the woman's mobile phone, stories she had discovered on the internet. That's what got them started, she says: "They pushed me to the ground, slammed me into the wall, and insulted me."

They grabbed her arms, pushed her to the ground again, and one man pulled out a knife and slashed the trousers she was wearing. Both men violently raped her, she says. "I fainted."

Torture and murder 

The young woman, who has since fled her native country and lives abroad, is one of 500 witnesses a UN commission of inquiry interviewed about Burundi.

The three members of the UN commission

The members of the commission were barred from investigating in Burundi

In a final report issued on Monday, the  UN accuses Burundi's government of severe human rights violations. Many victims, the report says, were tortured and raped, while demonstrators, members of the opposition, journalists and human rights activists were arbitrarily arrested by police over the past two years.

The crimes that violate international law were committed by members of the National Intelligence Services, Burundi's national police and the army, according to Fatsah Ouguergouz, president of the commission. The ruling party's youth league is also said to have participated in the violence.

The authors of the UN report say President Pierre Nkurunziza and his supporters should be held accountable for their security forces' misdeeds. But the Burundi government rejects the accusations, saying they are part of an international conspiracy against the country.

Burundi UN Ambassador Albert Shingiro on Twitter slammed the commission as partisan, its report politically motivated.

'No justice in Burundi'

In September 2016, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) launched the commission a year after the crisis broke out in Burundi.

Despite being barred from doing so by the constitution, President Nkurunziza had campaigned for a third term in office. He had all  protests put down, with an estimated death toll of between 500 and 2,000 demonstrators. But the UN Commission also accuses armed opposition groups of bearing part of the responsibility for the violence in the country.

Burundian protesters in the street

The government cracked down on protesters


The three UN investigators were not able to conduct research on site as the government denied them entry into the country. They were limited to neighboring countries, where they interviewed more than 500 Burundians who had fled the country. Almost 400,000 people have left Burundi since the crisis broke out two years ago, and the UN estimates their number will have reached half a million by the end of this year.

The woman who was accosted in her home would like to see the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague take up the case of human rights violations in Burundi: "There is no justice in Burundi because justice is being exploited," she said. The UN Commission has also urged the Netherlands-based court to investigate the incidents.

Time is short, as Burundi last October announced it was withdrawing from the ICC - a move that takes effect next month. Unless the ICC has launched investigations by then, the international body can only become active on behalf of the UN Security Council.

Women refugees carrying bundles on their heads

Many thousands of Burundians have fled to neighboring countries

Send a messsage

The Criminal Court must identify the guilty parties within both the government and the opposition, Gesine Ames of the Ecumenical Network Central Africa (OENZ) told DW ,"because that sends a signal." Burundi constantly ignores international agreements and resolutions, and reacts aggressively to accusations, she added.

Meanwhile, the government in Bujumbura plans to launch its own investigation.

"Burundi has made a great effort to fight impunity," says Martin Nivyabandi, the country's minister responsible for human rights, adding that whoever has committed a crime will be punished according to the law. He says it is not the International Criminal Court's duty to investigate possible offenses in Burundi, but to help Burundi's own judiciary.

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