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Burundi 2023

Journalists, human rights defenders and activists were arrested and prosecuted in violation of the rights to a fair trial, and to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Government officials interfered in the internal affairs of the main opposition party. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, and cases of enforced disappearance and violations of the right to life continued to be reported. Accusations of bias within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission persisted. High-level officials promoted discrimination and incited violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as against single mothers. Although violence against women remained a concern, reporting and prosecution of such crimes continued to be low. Measures taken by the government exacerbated the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, and the right to health was undermined. Almost 74,000 people remained internally displaced, most of them by natural disasters. Returning Burundian refugees and asylum seekers faced intimidation, extortion and arbitrary detention.


Former prime minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni was convicted on 8 December on charges including undermining the internal security of the state, undermining the proper functioning of the national economy, illegal taking of interest, illegal possession of weapons and insulting the president. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.1

In accordance with the 2018 constitution, the senate evaluated whether to continue with ethnic quotas in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

The government rejected many pertinent recommendations made during its UPR in May.2

In July, the government delegation walked out of its review session at the UN Human Rights Committee, objecting to the presence of a human rights defender convicted in his absence on false accusations of participating in the 2015 coup attempt.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi said the National Independent Human Rights Commission’s reports “gloss[ed] over politically sensitive issues”.

The armed group RED-Tabara claimed responsibility for an attack in Vugizo sector next to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 22 December and said that it killed nine soldiers and one policeman. The Burundian government said 20 people were killed, including 19 civilians. President Ndayishimiye accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting the armed group, which Rwanda denied.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

Journalist Floriane Irangabiye was convicted of “undermining the integrity of the national territory” on 2 January and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her conviction, based on comments made on an online radio show, was upheld on appeal in May. A long-standing medical condition was exacerbated by her detention conditions in Muyinga prison and she requested a transfer to Bujumbura, where she was initially arrested, to be closer to her family and to have access to more appropriate medical care.3 In October, she was moved to Bubanza prison, 40km from Bujumbura.

In June, the minister of interior suspended all activities of the main opposition party, the National Congress for Liberty (CNL), apart from meetings aimed at resolving internal party tensions. The CNL leadership and other observers accused the minister of interfering in the internal affairs of the party.

There were regular arrests of CNL members accused of holding unauthorized meetings.

Human rights defenders

On 14 February, human rights defenders Sonia Ndikumasabo, Marie Emerusabe, Audace Havyarimana and Sylvana Inamahoro were arrested at the airport on their way to Uganda for a meeting. A fifth activist, Prosper Runyange, was arrested in Ngozi and transferred to Bujumbura. They were charged with rebellion, undermining internal state security and undermining the functioning of public finances, all on account of their human rights work.4 In late April, Sonia Ndikumasabo and Marie Emerusabe were acquitted of all charges, and the rest were found guilty of rebellion and given one-year suspended sentences. All five were released.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

Christophe Sahabo, managing director of Kira Hospital in Bujumbura, remained in detention, having been arrested in April 2022 and later charged with several economic crimes. There were repeated delays in the judicial proceedings.

Enforced disappearances

Reports of enforced disappearances continued throughout the year, with the main alleged perpetrators continuing to be the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and members of the ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure. Most victims were political opponents – members of the CNL and the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy – although members of the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy in conflict with the party hierarchy were also reported missing.

The government rejected UPR recommendations to ratify the International Convention against enforced disappearance.

Right to life

Burundian human rights organizations continued to document the regular discovery of lifeless bodies, often with marks of violence, in rivers and bushes around the country. The UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi and the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that bodies were often buried in haste, without their identities being established or investigations into the circumstances of their deaths.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

In March, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began public hearings. Its president told the media that the role of these hearings was to “reinforce and confirm the truth already found in the archives through mass graves and testimonies, but also in doctrine and published works” and to allow more people to express themselves. Accusations of bias against the Commission, due to its focus on the massacres of 1972, continued.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights shared its 2022 decision in favour of victims of violence by the police and the SNR during the 2015 protests, and requested the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible; apologize publicly to all victims; and provide adequate compensation, medical assistance and psychological support.


On 22 February, 24 people were arrested in the political capital, Gitega, at a workshop on economic inclusion. They, and two others later added to the case, were prosecuted on charges of “homosexuality” and “incitement to debauchery”. Seven were found guilty in August. Nine of the people acquitted were not immediately released, and one whose health had deteriorated in detention, died before the prosecutor agreed to sign his release papers.

On 1 March, President Ndayishimiye made discriminatory and homophobic remarks at the national prayer breakfast, describing “homosexuality” as a “curse”. On 29 December, he said that LGBTI people found in Burundi “should be stoned”. The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about allegations of incitement of hatred and violence against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity, including by state authorities and political leaders. The Committee called on the government to repeal discriminatory legal provisions and investigate and prosecute those responsible for discrimination and violence.

Violence against women and girls

In July, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its review of Burundi’s report, expressed concern about persistent violence against women, coupled with the low rate of reporting and prosecutions. This was due largely to the risk of stigmatization and reprisals faced by victims, impunity for perpetrators, and the insufficient number of reception centres and protection measures for victims.

Also in July, the minister of interior made threatening and derogatory remarks about single mothers, following his earlier drive to prevent the registration of births of children to “unknown fathers”. He called on local administrators in Busiga commune in Ngozi province to beat them until they revealed the name of their children’s father.

Economic, social and cultural rights

Increasing prices of food, fuel, and other essential goods and services had a detrimental impact on the right to an adequate standard of living. Almost 10% of the national 2022/23 budget was allocated to social protection. However, more than half the population lived below the poverty line, and existing social protection programmes were already insufficient. Some of the measures taken by the government worsened the situation for those with the fewest resources. In June, the central bank gave 10 days’ notice of its decision to withdraw and replace all BIF 5,000 and 10,000 (around USD 1.74 and 3.48, respectively) denomination notes dating from 2018. Individuals, among the 20% of the population holding bank accounts, could deposit a maximum of BIF 10 million (around USD 3,500). Many people reportedly lost savings held in cash.

Right to health

The proportion of the national budget allocated to the health sector decreased from 13.4% in 2021/22 to 9.6% in 2022/23. While this may be explained by a sharp increase in the overall budget due to investments in agriculture and infrastructure, it fell short of the 15% target allocation set out in the 2001 Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases.5

In a discussion on the proposed code of ethics for healthcare providers in August, the Council of Ministers recommended identifying a hospital that could be invested in as a location suitable for the treatment of “dignitaries” so that they would not need to leave the country for medical treatment. With the Ministry of Public Health reporting that over 50% of under-fives suffer from chronic malnutrition, this raised concerns about budgetary priorities.

Right to a healthy environment

Almost 74,000 people remained internally displaced, 89% as a result of natural disasters. Numbers affected by natural disasters leapt from 106,698 in 2022 to 158,939 from January to August 2023, primarily due to torrential rains and flooding.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

Over 25,000 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers returned to the country, bringing the total number repatriated since 2017 to 233,271, although a significant number (273,712 people) remained in neighbouring countries. Returnees were subjected to intimidation, extortion and arbitrary detention. The UN Human Rights Committee called on the government to take all necessary measures to guarantee returnees’ integration with security and dignity, and to conduct investigations into violations against them.

  1. “Burundi: Arrest of former prime minister an opportunity for accountability”, 26 April
  2. “Burundi: Continued impunity and shrinking civic space”, 22 September
  3. “Burundi: One year on, fresh calls for journalist’s release”, 30 August
  4. “Burundi: Free five rights defenders, drop charges; end civil society crackdown”, 14 March
  5. “Public debt, tax reform and the right to health in Burundi”, 27 June