The US government’s 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices documents human rights violations in Burundi from 2015 to date.
“There were numerous reports that the government or its agents, including police, the National Intelligence Service (SNR), military personnel, and elements of the Imbonerakure, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights,” reads part of the report.
According to Human Rights Watch, some Burundian refugees in other countries who testified fled the country after they or their family members suffered violence, including rape, torture, and illegal detention by members of the Imbonerakure.
“The press reported throughout the year that Imbonerakure members arrested, threatened, beat, tortured, or inflicted a combination of the foregoing on members of the CNL party.”
The government of Burundi government had not yet responded or reacted to the report findings by press time.
The report comes after Burundi’s Vice President Prosper Bazombanza met the US ambassador to Burundi, Melanie Higgins, as both countries reach out to each other in efforts to improve their bilateral relations and also collaborate in the fight against climate change.
Despite the government lifting a ban on one of the several media houses that it had been closed in February this year, media freedom in Burundi remains limited according to the US report.
“Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services and government officials to prevent them from doing their work independently or covering sensitive topics,” says the report.
The US government said that the Media regulatory body (CNC) in Burundi continued to prohibit journalists from providing information to the BBC since its licence was revoked in 2019 and also to the Voice of America since its indefinite ban in April 2019.
Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye in January hinted at a possible reopening of media houses that were banned since 2015 under late Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime.
So far only one local radio station has reopened, three months after president’s foray into the opening up of media space in the country.
This forced a number of Burundian media houses to set up base outside the country to serve a wider audience. Burundi exiled media houses — RPA, Inzamba and Renaissance TV — late last month announced the closure of their broadcasts “due to unavoidable circumstances,” but observers say that they were ordered shut by the governments where they operate in efforts to normalise the relations between the two countries.
“Those medias tarnished the image of Burundi so Burundi warmly received that decision from Kigali and dialogue is ongoing in efforts to stabilise the relations between the two countries,” said Burundi’s Foreign Affairs ministry spokesperson Sonia Niyubahwe.
Ms Niyubahwe said that Kigali’s decision came after the country’s Foreign Affairs ministers met in Rwanda as part efforts to normalise relations between the two countries.