The current crisis in Burundi has its origin in the controversy over the third mandate of President Nkurunziza in 2015. As demonstrations were repressed with an excessive use of force - according to HRW and AI - and a military coup was foiled by loyalist forces, the situation took an insurrectional character with attacks against the police, deadly police actions, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and torture. Rebel groups were formed in early 2016, mainly the FOREBU and the RED Tabara, but could not agree on an alliance or a common strategy.
Since the start of 2016, the OHCHR has been observing a decrease in extrajudicial executions and the VOA has noted that grenade attacks and clashes between the police and insurgents are becoming rarer. Several sources have denounced multiple cases of forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and torture, and describe a climate of terror. The EINUB reported in September 2016 that there was a decrease in overt violence but added that this was due to repressive measures being conducted more discreetly but more systematically against all forms of opposition. In late 2016 and early 2017, the United Nations and Iwacu reported an increase in political tensions, arrests and disappearances.
Whereas most sources consider that the crisis is of a political rather than ethnic nature, some sources point out that the Tutsi are targeted more than other ethnic groups. According to the FIDH and the Iteka League, crimes against humanity are being committed and “repression with genocidal dynamics” can be observed, even though the Tutsi are not exclusively targeted.
HRW and AI note that the number of victims is difficult to establish, as a number of incidents are not reported, especially outside the capital. In December 2016, the death-toll was established at 593 by the OHCHR. At the close of 2016, ACLED and Burundian NGOs counted more than a thousand dead, as well as numerous forced disappearances, cases of torture and sexual violence, and thousands of arrests. Several sources mention that many inhabitants of opposition neighbourhoods have left their homes, especially young people, who are being targeted even when not politically active. Extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and arrests are mainly targeting the opposition and “any form of real or imaginary dissidence”, according to HRW. Civil society activists and journalists and their close relatives have also suffered serious violence, as well as Rwandan nationals. Members and representatives of the ruling party have also been targeted by violence.
Whereas, according to ACLED, the violence mainly took place in the opposition neighbourhoods of the capital Bujumbura in 2015, it has spread in 2016 to other parts of the country, according to the same source and the United Nations.
The government crackdown and the humanitarian crisis caused more than 400,000 Burundians to flee to neighbouring countries. According to several sources, Burundian state agents are active in those countries. The political and humanitarian 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. According to several sources, the political crisis and international sanctions have had a devastating impact on freedom of movement, the economy, education and public health. Food shortages and a malaria epidemic affect a sizeable proportion of the Burundian population.
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 has led to numerous acts of mostly targeted violence, mainly by the government, although such acts may also be committed by the opposition. Confrontations between the security forces and armed groups have become rare, but serious human rights violations against government opponents and activists are frequent and widespread, as is repression of any form of real or imagined dissent. Since the beginning of the crisis, more than 400,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries.