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- Background of Burundi
Burundi is an African country located in the Great Lakes region and is one of the five members of the East African Community (EAC). With a total area of 27,834 km, Burundi is one of the smallest countries in Africa. Landlocked, Burundi shares borders with Tanzania to the East, the DRC to the West, and Rwanda to the North. Burundi contains Lake Tanganyika and other smaller lakes that dot the country. The overall population density compared to the area of land (not lakes) is 310 inhabitants per km2, which is concentrated mainly in the provinces of Gitega, Kayanza, Ngozi, Kirundo, and Muyinga, making Burundi one of the most populous African countries. Burundi officially recognizes three ethnic groups: the Hutu (85% of the population), the Tutsi (14% of the population), and the Twa (1% of the population). The cohabitation of these three ethnic groups caused tensions to rise in the past but after the Arusha Accords were signed in 2000, a much more peaceful atmosphere has existed until the recent political crisis (see below).
Historically, Burundi has experienced political crises and repeated civil wars between 1962 and 2008 that caused the deaths of more than 600,000 people. During the years of civil war following Burundi’s independence in 1962, Burundi struggled to grow economically, finally experiencing positive growth in 2005 at a rate of three to five percent. As emphasized by the World Bank, however, Burundi is still suffering the reverberations from previous wars, seeking to bandage wounds that have still not fully healed. Economic progress in Burundi is slowed by the high prices for food and oil, an energy deficit, inflation, excessive population growth, and a strong dependence on international financial aid. According to a recent IMF report, today, Burundi is the fifth poorest country in the world.
- 2015 Political Crisis
Article 25 of Burundi’s Constitution states, “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” In addition to this, Burundi is bound by an array of international and regional treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), all of which prohibit the use of torture or any other ill-treatment. After just experiencing a brutal twelve year civil war that ended in 2005 and left hundreds of thousands dead, Burundi is once again being plunged into another tumultuous situation following Burundi’s 2015 election. In April 2015, Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced his intent to run for a third term, an action which is unconstitutional due to Burundi’s two term limit. Following Nkurunziza’s re-election in 2015, violence has once again erupted, causing increases in killings, detainment, and torture. While overt violence has started to subside recently, covert violence continues to rise and fears are rising among the international community that this new crisis could open up old wounds left by the civil war.
As of August 2015 the National Prison Administration reported that the prison population of Burundi was 8,689 although the prison capacity was only 4,050, putting the occupancy level at 214.5%. Because of this over-crowding, juveniles are often held in the same areas as adults. Among these prisoners, 56.7% of them are pre-trial detainees or remand prisoners (4,925 people) and the average time for pretrial detention is reported as being between one and two and a half years. Some detainees, however, have remained in pre-trial detention for up to five years and in some cases the length of the pre-trial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence of their alleged crime. Since the re-election of President Nkurunziza, however, these problems have escalated and created a pressing need for more resources and funding. This need continues today as evidenced by the UN Human Rights Chief warning in April of 2016 of a “sharp increase in the use of torture and ill-treatment in Burundi” and concerns about reports of the existence of illegal detention facilities throughout the country. UN investigators have documented at least 345 cases of torture and ill-treatment from January 1, 2016 to April 18, 2016 alone according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and during visits in April of 2016 by the UN human rights team to SNR facilities (Service National des Renseignements – one of the country’s most feared institutions), thirty out of the sixty seven people held there displayed signs of torture, twenty-five detainees had been kept in custody beyond the prescribed maximum time limit, and while the detainees had been arrested for minor offenses, the SNR registry listed much more serious offenses such as undermining State security, illegal possession of arms, and espionage. In addition to this, APRODH identified more than one-thousand men, women, and children who were arrested and accused of participation in insurrection movements against the State between April 26 and late June 2015 while League ITEKA reported more than two-thousand persons arrested and detained throughout Burundi.
The re-election of President Nkurunziza has stirred the waters of discontent among many of citizens of Burundi leading to the growth of opposition movements and, as a result, increased violence by the police, the military, and other organizations. The SNR are one of the most notorious actors in Burundi responsible for the recent human rights abuses. People can be held at an SNR compound for weeks before ever seeing the inside of a prison, therefore making it difficult to gather precise statistics on the amount of pre-trial detainees in Burundi. As of late 2015, no one within the SNR has been investigated or arrested for claims of torture. Further, in the cases studies by Amnesty International, the detainees did not have access to lawyers or contact with family members while at SNR facilities despite Articles 10 and 95 of the Burundian Code of Criminal Procedure which provides a right to communicate freely with a lawyer. In addition to these conditions, the SNR recently has been excluding many organizations and individuals from visiting its facilities. For example, IBJ’s partner, APRODH, is no longer granted access to the SNR’s main compound. Within SNR facilities the police use every despicable tactic they have available to coerce confessions. The police beat victims, mutilate them, force victims to stare at the sun, place them into extremely hot metal containers for hours, and even use gas grenades.
Today, the citizens of Burundi live in a paralytic state of fear caused by a climate of intimidation and brutality. Police forces have tried to drive all dissenting voices out of the country with violence and the government has drastically censored the press. As a result, funding is drastically needed in Burundi to counter these increasing attempts to deprive individuals of their legal rights as provided by the Burundian Constitution and international laws and treaties. IBJ’s programs, headed by its legal services, are perfectly suited to combat this crisis as IBJ’s team on the ground in Burundi can continue to work with detainees and victims of torture to free them from prison or greatly reduce their sentences. IBJ’s victim centered approach provides individual aid to all those in need while also working to reform the system and the minds of those who operate that system.
- Prison Statistics (August 10, 2015)
- Prison Population = 8,689
- Prison Population Rate (Per 100,000 people) = 77
- Pre-Trial Detainees / Remand Prisoners (Percentage of Prison Population) = 56.7%
- Female Prisoners (Percentage of Population) = 4.0%
- Juveniles / Minors (Percentage of Population) = 3.4%
- Foreign Prisoners (Percentage of Population) = 1.2%
- Number of Prisons = 11:#Official Capacity of Prison System = 4050
- Occupancy Level (Based on Official Capacity) = 214.5%
- Prison Population Trend (Year / Prison Population / Prison Population Rate)
- 2001 / 9,013 / 130
- 2002 / 8,647 / 121
- 2004 / 7,526 / 98
- 2006 / 7,332 / 89
- 2008 / 9,114 / 104
- 2010 / 9,481 / 100
- 2012 / 10,422 / 103
- 2014 / 8,646 / 79
- 2015 / 8,689 / 77
- General Information
- Capital = Bujumbura
- Ethnic Groups = 85% Hutu / 14% Tutsi / 1% Twa
- President = Pierre Nkurunziza
- Area = 27,834 km2
- Population = 11,178,921
- GDP = $3.247 billion
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