Burundi: President’s Speech Instills Fear as Killings Increase


The funeral of Christophe Nkezabahizi, his wife, nephew and two teenage children, shot dead by police in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura,
on October 13, 2015.
© 2015 Iwacu
(Nairobi) – Burundian security forces should exercise restraint during search operations for illegal weapons in the capital, Bujumbura, and not use these
operations as a license to kill.
President Pierre Nkurunziza warned on November 2, 2015, that anyone who failed to hand over weapons by November 7 would be “punished in
accordance with the anti-terrorist law and fought like enemies of the nation.” He told security forces they could use all means at their disposal to find
these weapons and re-establish security. Search operations began on November 8.
“Reckless and threatening speeches by the president and other ruling party officials have created panic,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human
Rights Watch. “The Burundian security forces have been responsible for numerous human rights violations in the past months, yet the authorities often
just blame ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists’ and ignore security officials’ deadly use of force.”
The president’s warning led many residents of Mutakura and Cibitoke neighborhoods to flee for fear of attack. Members of the ruling party youth league
searched them as they left.
The son of leading human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was shot dead on November 6, reportedly after being stopped by the police, and initial
media reports indicate that unidentified assailants killed at least seven people in an attack on November 7 at a bar on the outskirts of the capital.
In the lead up to search operations, senior ruling party officials used inflammatory and apparently threatening language in public speeches and statements.
In a speech to local officials on October 29, Senate President Révérien Ndikuriyo said: “Go tell them [those who have weapons]: If something happens to
them, they shouldn’t say ‘if only we had known’…. The day when we give people the authorization to ‘work,’ it will finish and you will see what will
happen.” He repeatedly used the word “gukora,” which means “to work” in the Kirundi language. The same word was used to incite people to mass
violence before and during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Burundian authorities have the authority to conduct law enforcement and security operations to seize illegal weapons. However, under international law,
security forces are obliged to ensure that they only use force that is proportionate to a legitimate threat. They should follow the United Nations Basic
Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which set out the limits on the use of force.
The speeches come on the heels of a spate of killings in Burundi, with more than 100 people killed since August, some by members of the security
forces, in and around Bujumbura. The frequency and brutality of the killings have reached disturbing new levels.
Two of the deadliest attacks took place in the Bujumbura neighborhoods of Cibitoke and Mutakura on October 3, and Ngagara on October 13. Multiple
witnesses said that men in police uniforms carried out both attacks, apparently in retaliation for attacks on policemen by armed men presumed
sympathetic to the opposition. The first attack killed at least seven residents and the second killed nine. In the Cibitoke attack, residents recognized
members of the ruling party youth league who collaborated with policemen during the attack. Two witnesses saw between 7 and 10 dead bodies in
civilian clothes being loaded into a police truck the day after the attack.
In the second attack, in Ngagara, the victims included a cameraman who worked for the state broadcaster. Police shot him dead, then ordered his wife,
nephew, and two teenage children to come out of the house, made them and a local guard lie down on the main street, and shot each of them in the head,
according to multiple witnesses.
In other cases, it has not been possible to identify the attackers. Dead bodies have been found nearly daily in Bujumbura, usually dumped overnight,
sometimes in locations other than where they were killed – making it difficult to identify the victims or the killers. Many victims have been found shot
dead, with their hands or arms bound, and with injuries indicating they may have been tortured. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch some bodies
appeared to have been stuffed into sacks, taken to the outskirts of the city, and buried.
Human Rights Watch arrived at the figure of more than 100 deaths by speaking to witnesses, family members of the victims, local authorities, journalists,
and other local sources, but has not confirmed each killing or the circumstances of every incident. Many Bujumbura residents told Human Rights Watch
that they were afraid to discuss the killings, making it difficult to confirm the exact number of victims.
The police deputy director general, Godefroid Bizimana – one of four people against whom the European Union imposed sanctions on October 1 for
“undermining democracy or obstructing efforts to achieve a political solution” – told Human Rights Watch on October 16: “The youths have used the
population as human shields. This is how civilians have died. Some of the insurgents take civilians, accuse them of not being sympathetic to their cause,
kill them, and dump their bodies.”
Witnesses, family members of victims, and members of the ruling party told Human Rights Watch that many of those who have turned up dead belonged
to either opposition parties or the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). Some
were members of the CNDD-FDD youth league, known as Imbonerakure (“those who see far” in Kirundi). Armed people sympathetic to the opposition
have resorted to violence, throwing grenades at police, firing on them, and attacking police posts.
The prosecutor general and the police spokesperson told Human Rights Watch that investigations are opened into all reports of killings. In many cases,
however, witnesses and victims’ relatives told Human Rights Watch that judicial authorities had not contacted them regarding investigations, even in
high-profile cases or cases where the victims were ruling party members.
A justice official told Human Rights Watch that while case files have been opened on many killings, magistrates have not always thoroughly investigated
them. The official said that cases are highly politicized, with some high-profile cases handled directly by magistrates or other officials close to the ruling
The deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi has led to a flurry of statements, resolutions, and other actions by senior diplomats and international
and regional organizations, including a meeting at the UN Security Council on November 9 and a strong statement by the African Union Peace and

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