In a briefing, “My children are scared”: Burundi’s deepening human rights crisis, Amnesty International documents extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, and looting by the police in Bujumbura on 11 December 2015.
“In the single most deadly day since the current political unrest began, the streets of Bujumbura were left littered with bodies, many shot with a single bullet to the head. At least one body was found tied up,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“The security forces’ violent tactics that day represented a dramatic escalation in scale and intensity from previous operations. Men were dragged out of their homes and shot at close range, while others were shot the instant their doors were opened.”
The pronounced intensification of crimes and abuses is a worrying portent for Burundi’s future.
Amnesty International’s briefing gives a picture of the events of 11 December. In response to armed attacks on three military facilities in Bujumbura, police began cordon-and-search operations in a number of so-called political opposition neighbourhoods. During some of these operations police came under fire from armed youth. In response they went from house to house looting homes and arbitrarily arresting people and killing dozens of others.
In the neighbourhood of Nyakabiga, residents described to Amnesty International how the bodies of at least 21 men were found in streets, homes and drainage ditches. Researchers found large pools of blood where some of the victims had been killed.
The dead included a disabled man, a teenage egg seller, a domestic worker, a teacher and a man who sold mobile phones. A number of the victims were children, including a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head as he ran to take refuge in an outhouse.
The bodies of most of those killed were collected by the authorities and taken to an undisclosed location.
The following day, the army spokesperson announced that 79 “enemies” had been killed, as well as four soldiers and four police. To characterize the dead as “enemies” suggests that they were political opposition fighters — a claim that is clearly untrue for many of those who were killed. However, some may have participated in the attack on the military installations or fought the security forces within residential neighbourhoods.
The Burundian authorities have a range of legal tools at their disposal to confront the current challenging security situation. They must urgently rein in the security forces to stop the abusive tactics that have become their stock-in-trade. An investigation announced by the Prosecutor General on 17 December is a good first step if the team is allowed to carry out its work in a truly independent, impartial and thorough manner.
"These killings are a horrific illustration of the growing human rights crisis facing Burundi and the need for the region and the rest of the international community to act vigorously. This should include supporting the urgent mission of independent experts to investigate crimes under international law and human rights violations as soon as possible,” said Muthoni Wanyeki.
“The government must take urgent action to end the increasing bloodshed and protect the rights of all Burundians. There must be an urgent and impartial investigation into the actions of the police on 11 December and other incidents. All those suspected of criminal responsibility for these heinous crimes must be held to account before an ordinary civilian court.”