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In Burundi, mass human rights violations were committed after the failed coup in 2015 as the government targeted anyone considered to be supportive of the opposition. Since then, human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, violence, arbitrary detention, assassination attempts and enforced disappearances. HRDs fighting impunity or denouncing acts of corruption and embezzlement involving public authorities are particularly at risk. Defenders speaking up on the need for democratic reforms or independent journalists denouncing human rights violations are similarly targeted. This has caused many human rights defenders and journalists to flee the country for their safety and live in exile.

Presidential elections took place on 20 May 2020, and local and international NGOs denounced the repression by the authorities before and during the electoral campaign. Earlier in May, six international observers were denied access to the country. General Major Evariste Ndayishimiye, member and candidate of the ruling party, was elected despite the opposition contesting the results and pointing to massive fraud. Two weeks after an election marked by government violence, intimidation, extrajudicial killings, media blackouts and internet shutdowns, the former president Pierre Nkurunziza died. Following his death, human rights defenders expressed growing concerns about the ascendancy of the military within the new government. Some officials subject to international sanctions have also been appointed to senior positions, which is enhancing the general climate of impunity and further narrowing civic space in Burundi.

Several human rights organisations have been deregistered over the past years, including Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (Burundian Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons – APRODH), Ligue Iteka (Burundi League for Human Rights), ACAT and PARCEM, based on unfounded allegations that their leaders may have been involved in subversive activities. The National Assembly adopted a bill in December 2016 which requires local NGOs to obtain authorisation from the Minister of the Interior for any activity and stipulates a limit of five years for persons elected to an organisation’s executive committee.

HRDs in Burundi fear for their personal safety, and are forced to work underground with an increased need for security. In October 2019, four journalists from the Iwacu newspaper and their driver were arrested while they were on a trip to Bubanza Province to report on clashes that erupted between armed groups and security forces. They were accused of attempting to undermine state security and convicted to 2.5 years in prison in January 2020.

On 27 October 2017, Burundi became the first State to leave ICC and on 28 February 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner in Burundi was forced to close at the insistence of the government. Burundi refused to implement resolution 39/14 reaffirming the obligation of the State of Burundi to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights and fundamental freedoms.