NEW YORK (August 24, 2018) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns a Burundian court decision that sentenced human rights advocate Nestor Nibitanga to five years in prison for allegedly “undermining state security.” Nibitanga worked for the Burundian Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees (APRODH), a persecuted human rights group founded by Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a well-known advocate who spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010. APRODH and other civil society groups in Burundi have faced persecution, violence, and harassment since 2015; the organization’s license was suspended by the government in 2016, making it impossible for Nibitanga, Mbonimpa, and their colleagues to continue their work legally. HRF calls on Burundi to reverse its abusive policies toward human rights groups and release all political prisoners, in compliance with international human rights law.
“Nibitanga’s job was simply to report on human rights abuses. For that, he’s been harassed, arbitrarily deprived of liberty, and sentenced to spend the next five years in Burundi’s notoriously inhumane prison system,” said Celine Assaf Boustani, international legal associate at HRF. “Groups such as the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry on Burundi rely on local, independent organizations like APRODH for on-the-ground information on rights abuses. Now, the dictatorship is targeting Nibitanga and others like him in order to eliminate any evidence exposing how violent and abusive the regime is to its own people.”
The regime’s crackdown began in 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intent to run for a third term in office, a move that was widely criticized for contravening the constitution’s two-term limit. In response to criticism and protest, Nkurunziza revoked the licenses of many civil society groups and launched a campaign against protesters, civil society leaders, journalists, and critics that left 1,200 dead, between 400 to 900 forcibly disappeared, and 10,000 arbitrarily detained, according to the International Federation of Human Rights. The regime’s actions have been so violent and cruel that they could qualify as crimes against humanity, according to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi’s 2017 report. Three years later, Nkurunziza’s repression and power consolidation continues; in May 2018, Burundi held a rigged vote to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow Nkurunziza to remain in office until 2034.
Nestor Nibitanga was first arrested on November 21, 2017, after authorities investigated his home and found human rights reports that they claimed “threatened state security.” He was held incommunicado and without charge at the National Intelligence Service headquarters until December 4, when he was transferred and finally allowed contact with his family and a lawyer. He was found guilty of “undermining state security” and sentenced by the court of Mukuza in Bujumbura on August 13.
For more information on the persecution of APRODH — a prime example of Nkurunziza regime’s contempt for human rights — watch Pierre Claver Mbonimpa’s Oslo Freedom Forum talk here. Mbonimpa was arrested, jailed, and tortured for his activism. He survived an assassination attempt in August 2015, but lost his son and son-in-law that same year; both were found dead shortly after being arrested during pro-democracy protests.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.