One Letter, One Life: How you can help Human Rights Defenders in Burundi
By Kenneth Harrow, Amnesty International USA Country Specialist on Burundi
Burundi remains the second largest contributor of AU peace-keeping forces in Somalia. While Burundi’s aid in Somalia signals a positive development from a post-conflict state, Burundi remains deeply divided by its own political crisis since 2015 when President Nkurunziza decided to ignore the constitution and run for a third presidential term. Since then security forces continue to commit human rights violations.
In a recent report, Amnesty International interviewed 129 Burundian refugees in Tanzania and Uganda, who described killings, beatings, threats of sexual violence, torture in detention and extortion committed by the Burundian government.
Two years ago, Burundian security forces killed Welly-Fleury Nzitonda when they found out he was the son of a prominent critic of President Nkurunziza. Mr. Nzitonda had been simply at the wrong place at the wrong time when coming home that night.
For the rest of Welly-Felury Nzitonda’s family, this was only the latest in a line of attacks from the Burundian security forces. Just a few months earlier, there was an assassination attempt on Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, father to Mr. Nzitonda. Mr. Mbonimpa is the President of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH) and had spoken out strongly against President Nkurunziza’s election in 2015. Then, Mr. Mbonimpa’s son-in-law Pascal Nshimirimana was killed in October.
Unfortunately, the tragic deaths in Mr. Mbonimpa’s family are an example of many in Burundi. Those who critique the government, organize political opposition, or conduct human rights work are at a high risk of being harassed, disappeared, or killed. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported the high frequency of enforced disappearances by the Burundian government. Amnesty International and other organizations found evidence of mass graves from systematic killings on December 11, 2015 in Buringa, on the outskirts of Bujumbura. The situation has been dire since 2015 and has caused 400,000 Burundians to flee the country and resulted in more than 500 people killed.
Amnesty International is conducting a campaign for Welly- Fleury Nzitonda, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, and other human rights defenders that have been attacked or killed. The Trump administration and Congress must press the Burundian government to end state-sponsored violence against those who peacefully oppose the government, and allow credible, independent investigations into deaths surrounding the 2015 election to take place. Now, more than ever, there is a need to act since Tanzania and Uganda stopped granting refugee status to Burundians fleeing the oppression.
You can make a difference for human rights defenders like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa.
Or, you and your friends can write letters to:
Sylvestre Nyandwi, Prosecutor General
Parquet General de la République
Mme Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Avenue des Eucalyptus
Telephone: +257 22 259 735 (office)
H.E. Pierre Nkurunziza
President of the Republic of Burundi
Présidence de la République du Burundi
Boulevard de l’Indépendance
Alana Smith contributed to this blog