Human Rights in Burundi

Human Rights Concerns

Unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and sexual violence were carried out, mainly against perceived political opponents. Freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained restricted; journalists and human rights defenders faced reprisals for their work. Hate speech along ethnic lines continued, and the President made homophobic remarks in his speeches.


The human rights situation did not improve following the May general elections. The presidential candidate for the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), was elected. He was inaugurated in June following the sudden death of President Nkurunziza on 8 June. In late June, the Council of Ministers were sworn in. This included the role of Prime Minister, newly created under the 2018 Constitution. Communal and legislative elections took place in May, followed by Senate and local level or colline (hill) elections in July and August, respectively.

There was no international election observation mission, partly due to restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi raised concerns about “numerous irregularities” reported by its observers. On 4 June, the Constitutional Court ruled that the election had been held “in a regular fashion”.

In October, the UN Human Rights Council voted to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The government continued to encourage refugees to return to Burundi. Refugee returns, facilitated by the governments and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, continued from Tanzania and began in August from Rwanda. Tanzanian authorities arrested, forcibly disappeared, tortured and arbitrarily detained several refugees, some of whom were later forcibly returned to Burundi. Returnees continued to face difficulties reintegrating and received insufficient support. Some were accused of supporting the opposition and were threatened or physically attacked by the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth wing.

Restrictions due to COVID-19 made it harder for people to seek asylum outside Burundi. Between January and mid-March, 3,242 people sought refuge in neighbouring countries in the run-up to the May elections. Between mid-March, when border restrictions were imposed, and the end of November, only 24 new arrivals from Burundi were registered in the region.


In the run-up to the elections, CNDD-FDD members increasingly used rhetoric which incited violence against the political opposition, and justified attacks against opposition members. The government failed to hold to account those suspected of being responsible for hate speech along ethnic lines. Such rhetoric continued after the elections.

Women’s groups criticized First Lady Angeline Ndayishimiye Ndayubaha’s speech to the Women’s Leaders Forum in September, in which she stated that the country would never see gender equality, and quoted from scripture to support her argument. The Family Code recognizes husbands as the head of the “conjugal community”.

President Ndayishimiye made several homophobic remarks in his speeches. In his inauguration speech, he described same-sex marriage as “social deviation”; in August, he suggested a correlation between countries which accepted homosexuality and high COVID-19 rates.

Freedom of expression

In January, Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi, journalists at Iwacu Press Group, arrested in October 2019 on their way to report on clashes in Bubanza province, were convicted of an “impossible attempt” to threaten internal state security. They were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and fined BIF1 million (US$525). Their driver Adolphe Masabarakiza was acquitted. In June, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld their conviction on appeal, but in December they received a presidential pardon and were released.1

In October, Fabien Banciryanino, a former opposition parliamentarian, was arrested on charges of rebellion, defamation, and threatening state security. He was questioned about speeches he had made in the National Assembly in which he criticized the government, which would normally be covered by parliamentary immunity.2

Human rights defenders

In June, Burundi’s Supreme Court ruled that the 2019 Ntahangwa Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s conviction, and 32-year prison sentence, was invalid. The case was sent back to the Court of Appeal to be heard again with a newly composed bench.

The trial of 12 exiled human rights defenders and journalists for “insurrection” continued before the Supreme Court. They were accused of involvement in the failed coup attempt of May 2015, in connection with their role in protests against the then President’s third term. Their lawyers were not present at a hearing in February.

Freedom of association

Members of the main opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL), faced numerous obstacles to their political activities. In some places, permission to open party offices was denied, whereas in other locations their offices were vandalized and destroyed. During the electoral campaign period, local administration officials prevented them from holding some campaign rallies.3

The authorities continued to press for stricter control over the operations of international NGOs, including by demanding that organizations provide individualized data on the ethnicities of their national staff. In May, a presidential decree was issued to establish international NGO recruitment committees, including government committees in each province to oversee and approve all national staff hires.4

Enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearances continued to be regularly reported, and previous cases remained unresolved. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances raised 81 new cases (primarily from 2015 and 2016) with the authorities. By the end of the year, the government had provided no response to any of the 156 cases raised by the Working Group since 2016. Despite having signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2007, Burundi was yet to ratify and implement it.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The CNL reported that more than 600 of its members, including candidates, were arrested before and during election day. Some were arrested after clashes with Imbonerakure members. Several CNL members were convicted in expedited trials before the elections. Reports of arrests and disappearances of party members continued throughout the year.

Two days before the election, the Prosecutor General wrote to the President of the National Election Commission asking for the disqualification of 59 CNL candidates in the legislative and communal elections on grounds that they were the subject of ongoing investigations. The Constitutional Court later overturned the decision to disqualify three candidates for the National Assembly.

Unlawful killings

Extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings continued throughout the year. After fighting in February between an unidentified armed group and the police and army in Bujumbura Rural province, photographs and videos circulated on social media showing at least 12 young men who had been captured and tied up, as well as photographs of the bodies of several of the men. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi analysed the evidence and concluded that the men were killed after being captured and while under the responsibility of police, military and the Imbonerakure, who also featured in the images.

The Imbonerakure killed several members of opposition parties during the election period. CNL and CNDD-FDD members also died as a result of violent clashes between the parties. Richard Havyarimana, a CNL member, was abducted in May in Mwaro province and his body was found three days later. In a rare example of accountability, two members of the Imbonerakure were found guilty of his murder. They were sentenced in August to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay his family compensation of BIF10 million (US$5,200).

Gender-based violence

Sexual violence was used by the Imbonerakure and others as a form of intimidation and punishment against people perceived as political opponents. In its 2020 report, the UN Commission of Inquiry highlighted acts of sexual violence committed against men and boys, as well as women and girls, in detention at the National Intelligence Service (SNR) since 2015. SNR agents subjected male detainees to torture and other ill-treatment that targeted their genitals and included rape. They also forced them to have sexual relations with other detainees, male and female, and subjected them to forced nudity and other humiliation. Women were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

Throughout the year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted highly publicized exhumations of mass graves connected to past atrocities. Exhumations were focused on graves linked to the 1972 massacres that primarily targeted Hutu. This focus combined with comments made by public officials was polarizing and seen as an attempt to impose a single narrative. The exhumations were carried out in a manner which jeopardized the preservation of valuable evidence and failed to ensure respectful storage of human remains.5

Burundi Newsroom

September 28, 2017 • Report

Conform or flee: Repression and insecurity pushing Burundians into exile

Thousands of Burundian refugees are under mounting pressure to return to their country where they would be at risk of death, rape and torture, said Amnesty International in a report out today.

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

January 27, 2016 • Report

Burundi: Suspected Mass Graves of Victims of 11 December Violence

Compelling new satellite images, video footage and witness accounts analyzed by Amnesty International strongly indicate that dozens of people killed by Burundian security forces in December were later buried in mass graves.

September 2, 2015 • Report

Use of Force – Guidelines for Implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by law enforcement officials

From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the favelas of Brazil, the police use of force and firearms makes global headlines when it turns fatal.

August 24, 2015 • Report

“Just Tell Me What to Confess To” Torture and Ill-Treatment by Burundi’s Police and Intelligence Service Since April 2015

Beatings with iron bars and acid burns are among an array of torture techniques used by Burundian security forces to extract “confessions” and silence dissent.

July 22, 2015 • Report

Braving Bullets – Excessive force in policing demonstrations in Burundi

Burundian authorities repressed demonstrations as if they were an insurrection, and now the country appears to be on the verge of conflict, Amnesty International warned in a new report, Braving Bullets – Excessive force in policing demonstrations in Burundi, released today.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 16, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Burundi 2013

Republic of Burundi Head of state and government Pierre Nkurunziza The cycle of impunity remained unbroken and the government did not fully investigate and prosecute extrajudicial executions from previous years. …

March 26, 2011 • Report

“A Step Backwards” – Torture and Other Ill-Treatment by Burundi’s National Intelligence Service

“A Step Backwards” – Torture and other Ill-Treatment by Burundi’s National Intelligence Service

March 19, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Burundi 2010

Head of state Pierre Nkurunziza Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes Population 8.3 million Life expectancy 50.1 years Under-5 mortality (m/f) 177/155 per 1,000 Adult literacy 59.3 per cent The …