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Rights groups alleges torture in Burundi

Sarah SteffenAugust 24, 2015

Just days after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunuziza was sworn in for a controversial third term, rights group Amnesty International claims his security forces used iron bars and acid to silence pre-election dissent.

Burundi Proteste gegen Präsident Nkurunziza
Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. De Souza

DW spoke to Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's East Africa deputy director.

DW: What are the major findings of your investigation?

Sarah Jackson: We found that Burundi's national intelligence service and police had used torture to extract confessions and crush dissent, including against people who they thought were involved in protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's standing for a third term.

How many people were tortured?

We as Amnesty International documented eleven cases, but we believe that the pattern is much more widespread than that. UN human rights monitors have documented over 300 cases of individuals who have been arrested, most of whom they said in the Secretary General's report had been tortured or ill-treated during their detention.

What can you tell us about the identities of the victims?

Many of these victims - all men - were thought to have been involved in the protest movement. But we also documented one case of a human rights defender and one case of a journalist who were also tortured by national intelligence.

What exactly happened to them?

National intelligence beat these men severely with iron bars, the police beat them severely with batons and with electric wire. We have cases of men who had dirty water poured over them and a case of one man who says that he was burned in battery acid, and indeed his injuries, which were seen by Amnesty International, were very serious.

What are possible repercussions of these torture findings - both in Burundi and abroad?

These findings show how serious the situation is in Burundi at the moment. We hope that the Burundian government will investigate these allegations and will bring an end to this practice, as they did when we reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment after the 2010 elections. We are also calling on African Union human rights monitors, who are now present in Burundi, to conduct their own investigation into these matters.

Has President Nkurunziza responded to the accusations?

We have yet to receive a government response. As part of the research we approached two senior representatives of the national intelligence service, both of whom declined to comment on these findings. We also tried to get a response from the director general of the police but were unable to reach him. We are hoping that the government will engage with these findings so that we will be able to continue this very important dialogue with them and try to help them to resolve this situation.

Do you think torture is going to continue in Burundi, or do you expect these suppressive measures to stop since President Nkurunziza has now been officially sworn in?

What we see in Burundi is that the national intelligence service has a long history of torture, but torture spikes during particular periods. We saw a spike in 2010 around the election. That practice then tailed off, and once again we have seen a spike since April this year. We believe that this is still continuing and we hope that the government will show us solid commitment to bring this practice to an end, but also to suspend those individuals, who are thought to have been responsible for this practice, pending investigations and prosecution.

What options are on the table for the international community to consider now?

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture could visit Burundi. Burundi is a signatory to the convention against torture. We also hope that other countries in the region and the broader international community as well will raise their concerns about this with the Burundian government, in order to recreate a space for dialogue. Even if individuals have different or divergent viewpoints there still needs to be a space for them in Burundian society.

Sarah Jackson is Amnesty International's East Africa deputy director.

Interview: Sarah Steffen