Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to Burundi’s new president, Évariste Ndayishimiye, urging him to make protecting and promoting human rights a priority during his presidency, the organization said on Wednesday.
The rights group outlined eight key recommendations to improve human rights in the country during his first year in office, including removing abusive security force officers and other officials from their posts; reining in and prosecuting abusive members of the ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth league; enforcing the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association; ensuring independence of the judiciary; holding people responsible for the worst abuses to account; and restoring cooperation with regional and international human rights and justice mechanisms.
“President Ndayishimiye faces the daunting task of ending pervasive patterns of violence and abuse, fueled by impunity, that have long plagued Burundi,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Reining in the Imbonerakure, ending impunity for abuses, and opening political space are key.”
Human Rights Watch said Ndayishimiye, who was sworn into office in June 2020 following former president Pierre Nkurunziza’s unexpected death on June 8, should ensure concrete human rights and democratic reforms, and accountability for past abuses in his country.
During his June 18 inaugural speech, Ndayishimiye promised to reform the judiciary and ensure that all government or other officials who commit offenses are held accountable. He also assured Burundians that his government will take measures to protect victims and witnesses and that corruption will not be tolerated. Ndayishimiye has repeatedly promised that political exiles and refugees can safely return to the country.
However, other statements have raised concerns. For instance, during his inaugural speech, Ndayishimiye made disparaging comments about human rights defenders, whistleblowers, and those he accused of criticizing the government. In addition, some recent actions by the new administration have raised doubts the government was serious about promoting human rights.
“The appointment of Prime Minister Alain Guillaume Bunyoni and Minister for the Interior, Community Development, and Public Security Gervais Ndirakobuca, both under international sanctions for their alleged role in violence in 2015, raises concerns about the possible interference with criminal investigations into past abuses,” Human Rights Watch noted, adding that “the Burundian government should ensure that no one who may be the subject of a criminal or other investigation into human rights abuses is in a position to influence it”.
“By taking strong, bold, and concrete steps to advance rights, President Ndayishimiye could turn the page on Nkurunziza’s rule of violence and abuse,” Roth said. “Ndayishimiye should adopt systemic changes that benefit all of Burundi’s people, starting with the urgent health crisis that is underway.”