During the year 2021, ACAT-BURUNDI noted that human rights violations continued with impunity as a result of the socio-political and economic consequences of the political crisis that began in 2015 in Burundi. The change of leadership during the 2020 elections has not brought significant changes in the life of the country.
During the period covered by this annual report, some progress was observed, such as the release from prison of human rights defenders Nestor Nibitanga and Germain Rukuki. Nestor was released on 27 April 2021 following a presidential pardon, while Germain was released on 30 June 2021 following his appeal.
Then, the measure banning the activities of the PARCEM association, taken in June 2019, was lifted on 2 April 2021, while the Bonesha FM and BBC Fm media were once again operating. For Bonesha radio, which was destroyed in May 2015, the rebroadcasting of programmes resumed on 26 February 2021, while for BBC Fm radio, banned in March 2019, programmes resumed on 16 June 2021.
ACAT-BURUNDI also appreciates the progress made by the Ministry of Justice in relation to the bad practice of keeping in detention prisoners who have been acquitted or who have served their sentences. Then, there was the release of prisoners, including some political prisoners, with the aim of relieving overcrowding in prisons and restoring the rights of unjustly imprisoned prisoners.
Nevertheless, ACAT-BURUNDI remains concerned about the many obstacles to the exercise of public freedoms. In its latest report of September 2021, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights “deplores the fact that since the arrival in power of President Ndayishimiye, the democratic space remains closed and the tolerance for critical opinions remains limited even if the dynamics of relations between Burundi and the international community have changed. Despite some isolated symbolic gestures in the field of human rights, no structural reforms have been undertaken to improve the situation in a sustainable way. The rule of law continues to be progressively eroded and the risk factors for the deterioration of the human rights situation, although they have changed, remain present overall.
Impunity still remains a threat to the security and freedom of the population. Indeed, the main alleged perpetrators of human rights violations, identified among the agents of the forces of law and order, the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and members of the Imbonerakure militia, as well as certain administrative officials, are never prosecuted.
In relation to this recurrent deterioration in human rights violations, ACAT-BURUNDI deplores the speeches of good intentions made by the authorities, in this case the Head of State, but which are rarely translated into action. Clearly, there is still a long way to go for the respect of human rights in general, in particular the administration of justice and the improvement of prison conditions.
For example, from January to December 2021, ACAT-BURUNDI recorded 371 cases of assassinations, 251 cases of arbitrary detention, 54 cases of enforced disappearance, 37 cases of torture and 7 cases of extrajudicial executions.
The dysfunctions in the field of justice persist despite a certain evolution compared to the period before the accession to power of President Ndayishimiye Evariste.
This is particularly noticeable in the persistence of corruption, the interference of various authorities and members of the CNDD-FDD in the affairs of the judiciary, the failure to respect legal procedures and deadlines, the non-execution of judicial decisions, particularly those concerning the release of prisoners, and the inertia in certain procedures.
Repeated expectations of the rights to security and freedom of the person are still being orchestrated against militants of the National Congress for Freedom (CNL) party as well as ex-members of the Burundian armed forces (Ex-FAB), mainly from the Tutsi minority. They are all wrongly accused of collaborating with the armed groups attacking Burundi.
Armed attacks by unidentified groups and others claimed by the Red Tabara have led to a recent increase in enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests and imprisonment.
Within the prisons, acts of torture and ill-treatment are still inflicted on members of the CNL, the MSD, ex-military or police officers of the Burundian Armed Forces, people who demonstrated against the third mandate in 2015, and other prisoners of conscience, especially in Mpimba and Gitega prison. ACAT-BURUNDI notes that there are still judicial files of these categories of prisoners mentioned above which are not evolving in accordance with the law.
On the ground, ACAT-BURUNDI notes that the prison population statistics do not always evolve favourably and even show a considerably high occupancy rate, reaching 800% of the capacity of prisons such as Muramvya prison.
The deadly fire in Gitega prison on 7 December 2021 caused significant material and human damage, which exacerbated the poor conditions of detention, which were already precarious due to the high level of prison overcrowding. Gitega prison is also facing other challenges in the Burundian prison environment, which further complicates the life of prisoners in this prison.
This report is a summary of the monthly reports produced from January to December 2021 and concerns the penitentiary establishments of GITEGA, MURAMVYA, BUJUMBURA, BUBANZA,NGOZI , RUTANA, RUYIGI, MUYINGA and RUMONGE.
It focuses mainly on prison conditions, taking into account the rights guaranteed to persons deprived of their liberty and prison overcrowding; the administration of these prisons as well as irregularities or malfunctions in the judicial files of persons deprived of their liberty will be addressed.
This report also addresses the referral of victims of human rights violations, mainly in prisons in the area covered by ACAT-BURUNDI, to the UN and African human rights mechanisms.
Finally, this report looks at the management of the COVID 19 pandemic in general in the Burundian prison environment.
Recommendations are made to the various key actors in the administration of prisons and access to justice in Burundi.
Please find below the full report:
ACAT-BURUNDI prison report, 2021 edition