The Burundian government and members of the ruling party have been engaged in a violent crackdown on opponents ahead of a controversial referendum planned for May this year, an international rights group has said.
According to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Bujumbura has over the last few months engaged in killing, beating and intimidating perceived opponents as time nears for a referendum.
The May 18 vote has been set to allow Burundians vote on whether or not to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to extend his tenure in office. The president who is already serving a controversial third-term would rule till 2034 if the vote succeeds.
“There is little doubt that the upcoming referendum will be accompanied by more abuses,” Ida Sawyer, HRW’s Central Africa director said. Burundian officials and the Imbonerakure (ruling party youth) are carrying out violence with near-total impunity to allow Nkurunziza to entrench his hold on power,” she added.
HRW said even though cases of abuse could be higher, it had confirmed 19 cases since December 12, all apparently to coerce Burundians to vote ‘yes’ on the referendum.
They include the beating to death of one person who did not show a receipt proving he had registered to vote; the beating of another person in detention that may have resulted in his death; and arrests, beatings, and mistreatment of many others.
The report added that the main victims of the crackdown were members of the political opposition party, the National Liberation Forces (Forces nationales de libération, FNL).