BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 17, 2018–Burundi government forces and ruling party members have killed, beaten, and intimidated perceived opponents of a constitutional referendum set for a May 17, 2018 vote that would enable the president to extend his term in office, Human Rights Watch said today. The abuse reflects the widespread impunity for local authorities, the police, and members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure.
Since December 12, 2017, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced the referendum, state agents and members of the Imbonerakure – “those who see from far” in Kirundi, the predominant language in Burundi – have used fear and repression to ensure the vote goes in Nkurunziza’s favor. The referendum would allow Nkurunziza, who is already serving a controversial third term, to prolong his rule until 2034.
“There is little doubt that the upcoming referendum will be accompanied by more abuses,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Burundian officials and the Imbonerakure are carrying out violence with near-total impunity to allow Nkurunziza to entrench his hold on power.”
Human Rights Watch confirmed 19 cases of abuse since December 12, all apparently to press Burundians to vote yes on the referendum. They include the beating to death of one person who did not show a receipt proving he had registered to vote; the beating of another person in detention that may have resulted in his death; and arrests, beatings, and mistreatment of many others. Most were members of the political opposition party, the National Liberation Forces (Forces nationales de libération, FNL).