By Haman Rights Watch
Published July 9, 2016
Burundian intelligence services, police and members of the ruling party’s youth league have tortured and ill-treated scores of suspected government opponents.
Human Rights Watch says agents of Burundi’s national intelligence service (Service National de Renseignement, SNR) have increasingly been responsible for torturing alleged opposition sympathisers taken into custody. They have beaten detainees with hammers and steel construction bars, driven sharpened steel rods into their legs, dripped melting plastic on them, tied cords around men’s genitals, and used electric shock. Detainees who were tortured or injured have been denied medical attention and many have been held in stinking, windowless cells.
“Politically motivated torture by the Burundian intelligence services has reached new levels and has become increasingly vicious,” says Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Intelligence agents treat suspected opponents horrifically because they know they can get away with it. The government should call a halt to torture immediately.”
Torture and ill-treatment appear to have become more widespread, and torture techniques more brutal, following a failed coup in May 2015 and several grenade attack on bars by unidentified men in Bujumbura and elsewhere since early 2016. The UN reported 651 cases of torture in Burundi between April 2015 and April 2016.
Intelligence officials told some detainees they would be killed if they spoke about their treatment and ordered others to lie or promise not to talk to human rights groups. Intelligence agents have followed and threatened people suspected of giving information to human rights groups.
Former detainees, including opposition party members, told Human Rights Watch that intelligence agents beat them with water pipes weighted with steel construction bars, often until they bled or had difficulty standing. One said that a policeman working at the SNR headquarters poured a liquid over his body that burned him so badly he begged to be killed. Another said an SNR agent smashed bones in his legs with a hammer. A former detainee said an SNR agent interrogated him while an Imbonerakure dripped melting plastic on him. They also used pliers to cut his genitals.
The Burundian authorities should seek the assistance of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and humanitarian agencies to identify victims of abuse who need medical assistance, and provide the necessary assistance, including specialized medical care outside their detention site, Human Rights Watch said.
Imbonerakure, meaning “those who see far” in Kirundi, have also been responsible for numerous abuses across the country, Human Rights Watch said. Imbonerakure operating at two major border crossings between Burundi and Rwanda have openly arrested suspected opponents in front of police, military, and border officials and accused them of collaborating with Burundian opposition members living in Rwanda. Witnesses said that in some cases the Imbonerakure appeared to have more power than the police.
“Local residents say that no one dares confront the Imbonerakure because of their power and influence,” Bekele says. “The authorities have allowed the Imbonerakure to operate outside the law, so the government needs to take responsibility for their actions.”
In May, Human Rights Watch wrote to Etienne Ntakirutimana, the head of the SNR, who reports directly to President Pierre Nkurunziza, with questions about alleged abuse, but received no reply. However, the public security minister, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, who oversees the police, sent a five-page reply in which he wrote that it was “unthinkable” that police could have mistreated detainees and that it would be a “serious error to assert gratuitously” that the police arbitrarily arrested, tortured, or ill-treated suspected government opponents. He denied categorically that the police collaborated with the Imbonerakure.
The minister wrote that allegations that the police demand money from detainees or their families in exchange for their release were “a lie,” and that any police involved in extortion would face “severe administrative sanctions and penalties.” However, he conceded it would be “illusory” to claim that police never make mistakes and that more than 70 police officers had been prosecuted since 2015, some for “abuses committed during the management of the insurrectional movement” before and after the 2015 elections and others for common crimes. He did not provide details of these prosecutions.