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“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, according to a new Amnesty International briefing published today.

In a briefing titled “Just Tell Me What to Confess To”: Torture and Ill-Treatment by Burundi’s Police and Intelligence Service Since April 2015, Amnesty International has documented chilling testimonies of victims of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of security forces. The briefing highlights a spike in the use of torture in Burundi since April 2015.

“The testimonies we received are as devastating as they are disturbing since torture and other ill-treatment are prohibited both by Burundi’s Constitution and by international and regional treaties Burundi is party to,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“Such practices must urgently be stopped, and anyone suspected of perpetrating crimes under international law such as torture should be suspended immediately pending thorough, independent and impartial investigations and prosecutions.”

Testimonies indicate that both the National Intelligence Service (Service National des Renseignements – SNR) and the Burundian National Police (Police Nationale du Burundi – PNB) are responsible for acts of torture and other ill-treatment against detainees arrested since April 2015 for their suspected participation in protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office, as well as against a human rights activist and a journalist.

One man who was arrested in late June showed Amnesty International the marks left after he was beaten while being held by the SNR. He said: “They began hitting me with iron bars. Then they asked me to undress. They took a five-liter container full of sand and tied it to my testicles. They left it on me for more than an hour; I fainted. After I came around, they made me sit in a shallow pool of battery acid…; it burned terribly.”

Another arrested demonstrator reported to have been tortured and forced to make a false confession. He was still nursing his injuries when Amnesty International took his testimony in July. He said: “That evening, they put me in a tiny room. There was no room for me to lie down; I had to sleep sitting. The next day, they put me in another tiny room, this one with small rocks embedded in the floor. I spent the whole day there. On the third day, they brought me into a room with a pile of glass shards, and they threatened to cut me up with them. They asked me to write up a list of every single person I knew, and also to sign a document promising not to take part in protests anymore. I signed it.”

Amnesty International also found instances of forced confessions. A man who was detained and tortured by the SNR in June told Amnesty International: “They told me if you don’t confess, we’ll kill you. But I said ‘How can I confess when I know nothing – you’ll have to just tell me what to confess to.’”

A man arrested by the police in June told Amnesty International about the SNR’s attempts to extract information from him: “They beat me up thoroughly. They used a metal bar and an electrical shock on my ring finger.”

In the cases Amnesty International documented, detainees were not given access to lawyers or their families during their detention at the SNR’s compound. To date, there appears to have been no investigation of any of these cases of abuse or torture.

“The Burundian government must take urgent action to ensure accountability and reparations for acts of torture and other ill-treatment by security officers and to prevent further violations,” said Sarah Jackson.

“The international community must urge the government to abide by its regional and international human rights commitments, and the African Union human rights monitors, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture should be allowed access to investigate the allegations.”


Demonstrations broke out in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, between April 26 and mid-June 2015 in protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in the July 2015 elections which was seen by many as unconstitutional and a violation of the Arusha Agreement. 

In July this year, Amnesty International released a report highlighting a pattern of serious violations in the police response to the demonstrations. Police used excessive and disproportionate force, including lethal force, against protesters, at times shooting unarmed protesters who were fleeing. Police even used tear gas and live ammunition against demonstrations where children were present.

Burundi is bound by a number of international and regional treaties that prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The CAT defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”.