Human Rights Watch on Monday called for an investigation into serious allegations of abuse during Burundi’s May 20, 2020 elections, and those found culpable should be held to account.
“The elections took place in a highly repressive environment with no independent international observers,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Reports of killings, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and voter intimidation during the campaigns should not be brushed under the rug.”
After a campaign for presidential, legislative, and communal elections marred by violence, arrests of opposition members, including candidates, and a crackdown on free speech, the national electoral commission announced provisional results on May 25.
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The commission announced that Évariste Ndayishimiye, the candidate for the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD), had won a reported 68.72 percent of the vote, but on May 28, the commission’s president said “draft” results that had not been “officially published” needed to be retracted. On May 30, the commission pronounced Ndayishimiye the winner of the presidential vote, although the constitutional court has yet to confirm the results.
The largest opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (Congrès national pour la liberté, CNL), denounced the results, calling the vote “a fiasco.” Its allegations include arrests of opposition party members and candidates, voter intimidation, vote rigging, and partisanship by election officials in the pre-election period and on election day.
The elections took place in the absence of any international observation mission and, on the day of the vote, access to social media and messaging apps was blocked throughout the country, restricting independent reporting and information sharing. Since the provisional results were announced, Human Rights Watch has received credible reports of opposition members being threatened and beaten, particularly in rural areas. Local media have also reported arrests of opposition members, accused of threatening the security of the state.
The CNL told local media that over 600 of its members had been arrested during the campaigns and on election day, and Burundian rights organizations reported multiple abuses, including arbitrary arrests and beatings of CNL and other opposition party members. Human Rights Watch has also documented killings and arbitrary arrests of CNL members during the pre-election period.
The CNL alleged serious irregularities including ballot stuffing and said that its polling agents (mandataires) were denied access to polling places and, in some cases, arrested. Human Rights Watch spoke with several voters, journalists, and human rights defenders who said that in some rural locations, ruling party youths were present at polling places and had intimidated voters, while election officials and the police turned a blind eye to voter harassment and intimidation.
“Responding to allegations of serious human rights violations and electoral fraud with more repression risks inflaming an already tense situation and could have disastrous repercussions,” Mudge said. “The government, its international partners, and regional actors should remember that elections are about the rights of voters – not those in power – to choose the people’s leaders.”