Amnesty says police used excessive force during Burundi demonstrations

Amnesty says police used excessive force during Burundi demonstrations


Source: Amnesty International
Country: Burundi

Even where children were present during demonstrations,
police still failed to exercise restraint, and used tear gas and live ammunition.


On 26 April 2015, demonstrations broke out in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, and continued
until mid-June to protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term
in the July 2015 elections. Political tensions ran high as many Burundians saw this bid as
unconstitutional and a violation of the 2000 Arusha Agreement which had brought an end to
the country’s civil war. Despite preparations to manage public assemblies during the electoral
period, the government imposed a blanket ban on demonstrations.

The police response to the demonstrations was marked by a pattern of serious violations,
including of the right to life, freedom of association and peaceful assembly. They used excessive
and disproportionate force, including lethal force, against protesters, at times shooting unarmed
protesters running away from them. Even where children were present during demonstrations,
police still failed to exercise restraint, and used tear gas and live ammunition.

Amnesty International conducted extensive research for this report in Bujumbura in May
and June 2015. This report is based on interviews with numerous victims and eyewitnesses
of human rights violations and abuses, relatives of victims, Burundian military officers, police
officials, and intelligence sources, government officials, journalists, and representatives of civil
society organizations, United Nations officials and foreign diplomats. Each incident in the report
has been corroborated, including with documentary sources where possible.

The report shows that Burundi has failed to comply with international standards on police use
of force such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Guidelines on the
Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa, as well as the UN Code
of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and
Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, resulting in patterns of serious human rights violations.
Restrictions on moving around Bujumbura have made it difficult to conclusively establish the
number of individuals killed during the demonstrations or who later died from injuries sustained
during the protests. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR) in Burundi documented 58 people, including children, military and police, killed
between 26 April and 29 June. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), eight
children have been killed since the beginning of the demonstrations and many more injured.
Outside the demonstrations, the police unit in charge of the Protection of Institutions committed
several extrajudicial killings, including of opposition politicians.

Treating largely peaceful demonstrators and entire residential areas as part of an insurrection
was counter-productive and escalated rather than defused protests. Though the majority of
protesters remained peaceful, some used violence in response to excessive use of force by the
police. This report documents these abuses too, primarily the throwing of stones and damage to property, but also the physical assault of a policewoman and the killing of a member of the
Imbonerakure, the National Council for Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of
Democracy (CNDD-FDD)’s youth wing.

The nature of these violations by the police against protesters – as well as government statements
before the demonstrations pre-emptively characterizing them as an insurrection – shows that
their aim was not to disperse demonstrations, but rather to punish protesters for their political

The assault on protesters was also coupled with a crackdown on the media. From the first day
of the protests, the authorities accused independent media of supporting “the insurrection”
preventing radio stations from broadcasting outside Bujumbura. Soon after a group of military
officers staged an attempted coup on 13 May, which failed within 24 hours, the police
attacked independent media facilities. At the time of writing, they have been unable to resume
broadcasting. A radio station close to the CNDD-FDD was seriously damaged by unidentified

Through interviews with policing experts and police officers, the report shows how individuals
in positions of power are bypassing the police chain of cchain of command to give orders that violate
regional and international human rights standards, including the right to life. As long as parallel
command structures exist in Burundi, all attempts to reform and train security forces risk being
undermined by individuals using the police to commit human rights violations for their own
political or personal agendas.
Despite tens of deaths and hundreds of people injured, the authorities have failed to effectively
investigate excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions by the police and bring suspected
perpetrators to justice. Contrary to Amnesty International’s findings, and in the absence of
investigations, government officials claim that some of the incidents documented in this report
were committed by individuals wearing police uniforms, but not the police themselves. According
to official sources, only five policemen are being investigated in relation to the demonstrations.
No victims or family members interviewed by Amnesty International had filed complaints with
the police citing fear of reprisals following intimidation by police or intelligence agents.
Repeated attempts by the East African Community (EAC) and other regional and international
actors to stop the situation from deteriorating further have failed, mainly because of the
authorities’ determination to push ahead with the controversial elections. In late June, exiled
generals who had participated in the failed coup announced their intention to mount an armed
rebellion against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s government.
Amnesty International urges the Burundian government to take prompt measures to end
excessive use of force, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests and arrests with violence, and
allow national and international journalists to operate freely and safely. The government must
suspend individuals named in this report from their positions pending criminal investigations and
prosecutions, and ensure victims have access to effective remedies and adequate reparations.
The government should institute a vetting mechanism to ensure that no-one suspected of having
committed crimes under international law or other human rights violations can be employed in
the security forces, pending independent and impartial investigations.

Regional actors should intensify their efforts to resolve the current crisis in Burundi. In particular,
Amnesty International urges the African Union (AU) to deploy human rights observers in
coordination with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and seize
the ACHPR to investigate human rights abuses to date, and ensure that perpetrators of human
rights violations are excluded from peacekeeping missions.

International donors should maintain pressure on the Burundian government to investigate
excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions, and suspend individuals named in this
report pending criminal investigations. They should refuse any assistance – including supply of
policing equipment or training to Burundian military or police units or individuals implicated in
serious human rights violations – which could facilitate any further violations. Before restarting
such assistance, they should ensure the authorities institute a vetting mechanism to prevent
individuals responsible for serious human rights violations from being employed by security

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