According to the HRW report, Burundi is at risk of further isolation for human rights abuses since May 2018. By Ajifowoke Michael Gbenga

Burundi is at risk of further isolation after a recent report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) shows the persistence of human rights abuses in the African nation. The human rights agency has also called on the United Nations (UN) Security Council to increase scrutiny and impose targeted sanctions.

According to the report, the country’s security services and members of the ruling party youth league – Imbonerakure – have continued to carry out widespread human rights violations since the May 2018 constitutional referendum. The offences which include arbitrary arrests, rapes, abductions, intimidation and killings are targeted at suspected political opponents.

More so, the abuses have increased since the registration of the opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL) in February. The East African reports that CNL is a breakaway faction led by Agathon Rwasa, whose leadership at the National Liberation Forces (FNL) has been in dispute. Since January 2019, HRW has recorded at least three killings, four disappearances, and 24 arbitrary arrests of real or perceived CNL members in eight provinces of Burundi.

HRW’s Central Africa Director, Lewis Mudge explains that the alarming violence is fuelled by the “impunity” that prevails in Burundi. “The cases we documented are likely only the tip of the iceberg. Local administrators and Imbonerakure members are terrorising the population with almost no scrutiny, due to the absence of independent media and civil society,” he added.

The HRW report is in line with the findings of a UN commission of inquiry on Burundi. In a briefing to the UN’s human rights council, the president of the commission of inquiry, Doudou Diène, said human rights abuses had been ongoing since 2018 referendum, including summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and sexual violence. The commission added that Burundi’s government was trying to convince the world that things had returned to normal, even as international crimes were still taking place.

Furthermore, local authorities are putting pressure on people to join the ruling party ahead of the country’s 2020 presidential election, especially in rural areas. In at least eight of Burundi’s 18 provinces, the oppressors’ reaction to the registration of the new opposition party has been rampant abuses.

Burundi’s frosty international relations

The East African nation’s relationship with the international community has been rocky over the years. Isolated by donors and international development agencies, the government has been running its affairs uninterrupted.

The situation is no better at the regional level. Last month, Burundi’s request to join the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was rejected over concerns of internal political instability in the country, coupled with its unsettled relationship with Rwanda.

The bloc’s chairperson, Namibian President Hage Geingob, said Burundi did not meet the admission requirements with the major factor being the unresolved democratic process in the country. Moreover, Bujumbura continues to have problems in the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in which it is a member.

With the once vibrant civil society and media landscape decimated by the ongoing crisis, the humanitarian situation in Burundi remains dire and the country, already ostracized by regional and international groups and organisations, is facing a higher level of isolation.