The name Imbonerakure means “those who see far” in Kirundi, the primary language of Burundi; but, Human Rights Watch says what it sees is the ruling party’s youth league committing atrocities across the country.
In a new report, HRW accuses Burundi’s government of refusing to prosecute or rein in the Imbonerakure, which the rights group says should be held responsible for the violence.
“These are very serious allegations and the cases that we’ve documented are likely a fraction of the wider pattern of abuses,” said Leslie Lefkow, HRW’s deputy Africa director. “It’s very clear that Imbonerakure members seem to have almost virtually complete impunity to commit abuses in Burundi at the moment.”
HRW says its findings are based on interviews conducted over the past three months, in which it documented “scores” of cases of killings, torture and severe beatings.
FILE - Family and friends weep and pray after preparing the body for burial of Ndayizeye Janvier Abdul, who they say was killed by members of the Imbonerakure, in the district of Buterere in Bujumbura, Burundi, June 3, 2015.
Specifically, HRW says Imbonerakure members beat a 15-year-old boy to death with clubs, cut out a man’s eye and then stomped him to death, and attacked people with knives, clubs, and wooden poles, among other abuses.
The rights group alleges members have also set up unofficial roadblocks in various provinces to sometimes detain and beat passersby, in addition to stealing money and possessions.
Attempts to reach Burundi’s presidential, police and ruling party spokespersons for a response to these allegations were unsuccessful.
According to Human Rights Watch, sources say they have lost confidence in the justice system, which they believe cannot help victims and may even be implicated in abuses.
“These cases point to a deeper climate of fear,” said Lefkow. “There is a complete loss of confidence, in law enforcement, in the judiciary, because any politically sensitive cases are going to be led by ruling party policies.”
HRW is asking authorities to “immediately and publicly order Imbonerakure members to stop illegally detaining, ill-treating and extorting money from the population.” It wants the judiciary to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the crimes, and for the government to remove the illegal roadblocks.
Call for individual sanctions
In addition, HRW is calling for individual targeted sanctions against those responsible for serious human rights violations, at the highest levels.
Burundi’s current crisis began in April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his controversial bid for a third term. A recent report from human rights groups says that more than 1,000 people have died and hundreds have gone missing.
FILE - Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza arrives for the ruling Conseil National pour la Defense de la Democratie - Forces pour Defense de la Democratie (CNDD-FDD) party extraordinary congress in Gitega Province, Burundi, Aug. 20, 2016.
The government has announced it will leave the International Criminal Court, while the ICC is still deciding whether to launch a full investigation into alleged atrocities.
A European Parliament resolution Thursday called on the U.N. Security Council and the ICC to quickly open a full investigation.