The crisis in Burundi has its origin in the controversy over the third mandate of President Nkurunziza. Starting from April 2015, demonstrations were held in Bujumbura’s anti-government neighbourhoods and elsewhere in the country. These demonstrations were repressed with an excessive use of force, according to HRW and AI. On 13 May 2015, a military coup by army and police officers was foiled by loyalist forces, who also attacked independent radio stations. At the end of July 2015, President Nkurunziza won the presidential election, which was boycotted by the opposition.
In July 2015, sources reported that the violence was taking an insurrectionary turn. In August 2015, the ICG noted that the country was on the brink of a civil war, with daily attacks against the police in Bujumbura and other towns, grenade attacks often causing civilian casualties, and police operations in anti-government neighbourhoods, leading to extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and torture. As from September 2015, corpses were being discovered regularly in the streets of Bujumbura. HRW adds that in the rest of the country much cases of abuse go unrecorded. Sources also report forced recruitments of Burundian refugees by armed groups in Rwanda. However, these groups, mainly the FOREBU and the RED Tabara, are unable to form an alliance and to define a coordinated strategy.
Since the start of 2016, the OHCHR has been observing a slight improvement in the human rights situation, with a decrease in extrajudicial executions, but continues to denounce many cases of forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and torture. The VOA noted in April 2016 that grenade attacks and clashes between the police and insurgents have become rare. Reporting a decrease in street violence, the ICG warns however that this is only an apparent improvement because repression measures against the opposition have become more discrete and accurate. Several sources evoke a climate of terror.
HRW and AI note that the number of victims is difficult to establish, as a number of incidents are not reported. In March 2016, the OHCHR has counted 474 civilian dead since April 2015. ACLED counted 1,274 victims of the violence, more than 50% in Bujumbura. This figure takes into account civilians as well as members of armed groups and the police. Additionally, the FIDH counted nearly 800 cases of forced disappearance. Several sources report that residents of anti-government neighbourhoods, especially young men, are specifically targeted even when they are not politically active. Demonstrators, (presumed) opponents of the regime, civil society activists and journalists, as well as their close relatives and Rwandan nationals have also suffered serious violence. The OHCHR notes that since early August 2015, more and more members and representatives of the ruling party are also being targeted by the violence.
Even if the rhetoric of some government members may evoke the rhetoric used during the Rwandan genocide, most observers are of the opinion that the crisis in Burundi is of a political nature rather than an ethnic one. However, incidents in which Tutsis have been specifically targeted and associated with the opposition because of their ethnic origin have been reported since the end of 2015.
ACLED notes that in 2015, the violence took mainly place in Bujumbura, the most serious incident being the extrajudicial killing of dozens of persons in anti-government neighbourhoods around 15 December 2015. According to the same source, the violence is spreading to other parts of the country in 2016. Whereas the press reports that movements of armed groups have been observed in several provinces and that some municipalities have been seriously affected by the violence, armed clashes with the police have decreased in 2016.
More than 270.000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, often because they feared abuse from the Imbonerakure. According to RI, the crisis also caused thousands of Burundians to be internally displaced.
Pressures from the international community towards an inclusive dialogue have not been successful so far. Several countries, including Belgium, have suspended their cooperation with Burundi. The political crisis and international sanctions have seriously affected freedom of movement, education and public health, as well as food production in the country, according to several sources.
On 25 April 2015 President NKURUNZIZA announced his intention to present himself for a third term in office. This announcement was followed by a failed coup on 13 May 2015. Since then, the security situation in Burundi has progressively deteriorated. This situation is currently serious and problematic and led to occasional acts of targeted violence, mainly from the authorities, but opponents also commit such acts. The situation in Burundi also led to armed clashes between the military and armed groups. The available information shows that these clashes are circumscribed in time and space and are not of a persistent nature.