Accessibility links

Breaking News

Advocacy Group Accuses Burundi Government of Human Rights Abuse

The International Crisis Group says the democratically elected government in Burundi is becoming more authoritarian, committing human rights abuses, arresting critics and muzzling the press. VOA's Catherine Maddux has more.

The non-profit advocacy group says, since the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza was elected, just over a year ago, the political climate in Burundi has deteriorated.

Jason Sterns, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group said, "A former rebel movement, the CNDD-FDD, came to power in a landslide election. They dominate the executive branch of government, they dominate the parliament."

"So, it is in this context of the CNDD really dominating all state institutions that they began to commit more and more abuses in human rights and economic governance. And, I think, probably the most disturbing thing is, they have, increasingly, in the last couple of months, moved to clamp down also on their critics," he added.

For example, Sterns says, last week, five leading journalists in Burundi were rounded up by the police for questioning. Three of them were arrested.

In an interview with VOA, Foreign Minister Antoinette Batumubwira denied the allegations of a press crackdown, saying Burundi enjoys great press freedoms.

She said the journalists who were arrested had violated the law. She did not specify exactly what laws had been broken.

But Sterns of the Crisis Group says journalists are not the only ones under fire in Burundi. He says a coup plot alleged by the government resulted in the torture of several suspects.

Sterns says government officials themselves admitted that torture had taken place.

"The minister of human rights visited them [the suspects] and, then, also gave an interview to the press, and confirmed that there had been torture," he said.

"I have also had individuals from the CNDD movement tell me that there had been torture. And, then, even though they had insisted they had proof of a coup plot that the police services, the secret services, had proceeded in a very ill-advised manner," he continued.

Hopes were high when Burundi elected its current unity government after more than a decade of ethnic bloodshed between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

For years, the country and the armed forces were dominated by Tutsi leaders.

Then in 1993, the killing of Burundi's first democratically elected Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye, sparked ethnic clashes and motivated Hutu rebel groups to try to retake the country. The ensuing violence killed an estimated 300,000 people.

Jason Sterns of the Crisis Group says the actions of the current Burundi government are not driven by the country's historic ethnic divide.

Sterns said, "It has, however, been replaced by very strong political tensions. It is now no longer about Hutu versus Tutsi, but it is the dominating party in government. You know, they have put civil society Hutu critics in jail. They have attacked Hutu press as well."

"They should be proud of the fact that they have been able to undermine these ethnic tensions. But we do need to denounce the fact that they are committing abuses against critics, no matter what ethnicity they come from," he added.

Sterns says the government is playing a high-stakes game by marginalizing its critics, and allowing Burundi's new democratic system to become dysfunctional.

He says the great danger is that opponents who feel repressed politically and economically could resort to the kind of violence the country has put behind it.