NAIROBI – Members of the Burundian governing party’s youth league have murdered and tortured people across the country, Human Rights Watch denounced on Thursday.
In a press release, the NGO said the Imbonerakure militia members were able to act with impunity as President Pierre Nkurunziza refuses to judge them, in the midst of a political and humanitarian crisis that has rocked the country since 2015.
“Burundians live in fear of the next attack, afraid to speak out to denounce the killings, torture, and other abuses,” HRW’s Central Africa director Ida Sawyer said.
The organization said it had received reports of Imbonerakure (meaning in Kirundi “those who see far”) beating a 15-year-old to death, blinding a young man with a knife and enforcing illegal road blockades and robbing anyone who tries to pass them, as well as many other attacks with clubs, knives and poles.
Youth league members were also used to identify and arrest suspects, who were often later tortured, even though they have no legal authority to detain anyone.
Witnesses that spoke to HRW said few members were ever arrested, and rarely faced trial or were detained for long.
“The killers and torturers who carry out violence so freely and the Burundian officials who support them need to know that there are consequences for their actions,” said Sawyer.
The ruling party’s communication secretary, Nancy-Ninette Mutoni, told the NGO that the Imbonekurare would never arrest people and took part calmly in political activities.
She said the party was opposed to torture and that nobody had complained of any abuses by the group.
“Those (Imbonerakure) who transgress are severely sanctioned first of all by the internal laws (of the ruling party) and if necessary, we will resort to penal laws,” said Mutoni.
In April 2015, the Imbonerakure and security forces were used to crack down on a wave of protests that erupted after Nkurunziza announced he would be running for a third term despite a two-term limit established in 2000.
Since then, several hundred people have died or been tortured and forcibly disappeared, and more than 325,000 people have fled the country.
Allegations of abuse by the Imbonerokure first emerged before the 2010 elections, which many believed Nkurunziza won fraudulently, when they were suspected of intimidating and harassing the opposition.