Human Rights in Burundi



The authorities failed to respond appropriately to the Covid-19 pandemic and to protect the right to health. Some measures against human rights defenders, activists and journalists were lifted – including the release of prisoner of conscience Germain Rukuki – but threats, intimidation and politically motivated prosecutions continued. Some returning refugees faced intimidation. The authorities failed to respect and protect women’s rights and violated the right to privacy. Enforced disappearances, unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions continued. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) faced accusations of bias and the judiciary’s independence was undermined.


There was a major shift in Burundi’s relationships with international partners. Political dialogue with the EU resumed and relations with Rwanda improved.

In May, the AU Peace and Security Council ended the mandate of its human rights observer mission in Burundi, and the UN closed the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Burundi. In October, the UN Human Rights Council terminated the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi’s mandate, which was replaced by a special rapporteur. Burundi’s National Independent Human Rights Commission regained its “A” status in June, despite civil society concerns.

Security incidents increased, including attacks on civilians in Bujumbura and the capital, Gitega, in May and September, and on road travellers in Muramvya province in May and June.

Humanitarian assistance was required by 2.3 million people. Burundi remained one of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change. More than 52,000 people were affected when Lake Tanganyika flooded, destroying or damaging their homes.

Right to health

The government resumed cooperation with the WHO, whose new representative arrived in the country in April, but the Covid-19 pandemic response remained insufficient. In July, the government authorized the World Bank to provide vaccines, but refused to sign any commitments to manage potential side effects or offer compensation for them. The first shipment of vaccines arrived in October. Covid-19 cases resurged in the second half of the year, with doctors reporting that official figures were far below the actual numbers. In September, weekday parties and ceremonies of a social nature were banned. The authorities introduced a health pass in November for travellers from the commercial capital, Bujumbura, to other provinces, to prove that they had tested negative.

Freedom of expression

In January, the president promised that his government would promote a “free and responsible press”, calling on the National Communication Council to engage with suspended media houses to enable them to restart their work. Following his speech, restrictions were lifted on several media houses, including Bonesha FM, Isanganiro TV and the BBC.

These moves were undermined in August, however, when the president launched a personal attack against journalist Esdras Ndikumana for his reporting on the impact of Covid-19, accusing him of “hating the country in which he was raised”.

The conviction of former parliamentarians Fabien Banciryanino in May and Pierre-Celestin Ndikumana (in his absence) in August also called into question the government’s stated commitment to the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. They had openly criticized the government’s human rights record in the 2015-2020 legislature, which was rare among parliamentarians. Fabien Banciryanino was released in October after serving a one-year prison sentence.

Human rights defenders

The conviction in their absence of five human rights defenders and seven journalists who had been involved in the 2015 protests was announced in February, although the Supreme Court ruled on the case in June 2020. They had been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of undermining state authority, murder and damage to property in connection to the 2015 attempted coup. They had no legal representation during the trial.1

Nestor Nibitanga, former regional observer with the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), was released from prison in April, after receiving a presidential pardon having served four years of a five-year sentence. He had been arrested in 2017 and convicted in 2018 on spurious charges of “threatening internal state security”.

In June, the Ntahangwa Appeal Court overturned human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s conviction on charges of “participation in an insurrectional movement”, “threatening internal state security”, and “attack on the authority of the state”, but the court upheld his conviction for “rebellion”. His 32-year prison sentence was reduced to one year plus a fine of BIF50,000 (US$25). He was released on 30 June, after almost four years in detention.2

Also in June, lawyer Tony Germain Nkina was convicted by the High Court in Kayanza of “collaboration with rebels who attacked Burundi” and sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of BIF1 million (approximately US$500). He had been arrested in October 2020 while working in Kabarore commune, an area that had been affected by armed attacks. Several elements in the case strongly suggested that it was motivated by his former work with civil society, dating back more than six years. The Ngozi Appeal Court upheld his conviction and sentence in September.3

Civil society organization Words and Actions for the Awakening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM) was permitted to reopen in April, after being suspended for nearly two years.

Women’s rights

Burundian authorities continued to fail to respect and protect women’s human rights. A woman who was missing for three months after leaving her husband was accused of “family abandonment”, an offence punishable by up to two months in prison. Before going to the police, she had been in hiding at a safe house run by a women’s rights organization, which was in turn accused of threatening state security.

Right to privacy

An evening curfew was imposed in Gishubi commune in Gitega province to prevent social mixing between men and women, continuing a trend observed in other parts of the country in recent years. New rules were introduced whereby a woman found in a bar after 7pm with a married man, not her husband, would be fined BIF10,000 (US$5), as would a girl found outside her family home at that time. Men caught with women who were not their wives would be fined BIF20,000 (US$10) and the same fine would be imposed on boys found with girls after 7pm.

In September, the minister of interior ordered the suspension of all administrative officials who were practising “concubinage” (defined by law as a married man living with one or more women as though they were “wives” outside or within the marital home) or were part of “illegal unions”. The bans on cohabitation outside marriage and on polygamy continued.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

Arbitrary arrests and detention continued, notably of members of the opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL). In September, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi published a report which found that in addition to police and intelligence service officers, judicial and sometimes prison staff were also responsible for cases of arbitrary detention.

Enforced disappearances

New cases of enforced disappearances were reported, including that of Elie Ngomirakiza, a CNL representative from Bujumbura Rural province, who was detained in July. Cases from previous years remained unresolved and there were more than 250 open cases before the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. Despite this, the national authorities sought to minimize the issue. In July, the president told media that there had been no disappearances and referred instead to criminals who fled to Rwanda. Later that month, the Prosecutor General of the Republic underplayed reports of enforced disappearances, referring instead to people who left to join armed groups without informing their families, and criminal groups that carried out abductions disguised as security forces.

Right to life

Dead bodies, often bearing signs of violence, were regularly found near roads, lakes, ditches and other public places. The human rights organization Ligue Iteka reported that 269 bodies were discovered between January and December; however, investigations were rarely conducted before burials.

The police, National Intelligence Service and members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, were accused of killing suspected opponents, including through torture.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

The TRC continued to conduct exhumations of mass graves of victims of the 1972 massacres, which primarily targeted Hutu. Focusing on the 1972 massacres without investigating other atrocities, the TRC faced accusations of bias and of working on behalf of the ruling party. Separately, between April and June, the senate organized a series of conferences to remember the 1972 massacres, risking pre-empting the TRC’s conclusions.

In July, the President of the National Assembly made threatening public remarks about magistrates and undermined the independence of the judiciary. The same month, the Governor of Bujumbura province proposed regular meetings between the judiciary and his office to deliberate on justice-related complaints brought by residents. In August, President Ndayishimiye spoke out about allegations of corruption among judges but took no action to prevent political interference in the justice system.

The ICC continued its investigation into the Burundi situation (despite Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute), with a focus on “[a]lleged crimes against humanity committed in Burundi or by nationals of Burundi outside Burundi since 26 April 2015 until 26 October 2017”.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Between January and September, around 36 Burundians were reported to have arrived in neighbouring countries as asylum seekers. The numbers leaving Burundi had reduced dramatically from March 2020 because of Covid-19 restrictions on movement and some border restrictions remained in place in 2021.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, supported more than 60,000 people in their return to Burundi up to the end of October. In June, Burundi’s Conference of Catholic Bishops raised concerns about returnees not being well received in certain areas and being intimidated by those who were supposed to support them to reintegrate into society.

  1. Burundi: Genuine Reopening of Civic Space Requires Accountability (Index: AFR 16/3806/2021), 11 March
  2. Burundi: Release of Germain Rukuki a victory for human rights”, 1 July;Burundi: Germain Rukuki’s prison sentence cut from 32 years to one”, 22 June
  3. Burundi: Lawyer Gets 5-Year Prison Sentence: Tony Germain Nkina (Index: AFR 16/4636/2021), 20 August


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 …