Burundi Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Since then President-elect Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested election victory in July 2015, Burundi has been in political chaos, with harassment, repression and violence directed at political opponents and other government-critical voices. Freedom of the press and opinion is severely restricted and there are almost no media left that can operate freely from the involvement of the authorities.

According to Freedom House, the democratic progress made by Burundi after the end of the civil war in 2005 is being destroyed by the increasingly authoritarian regime of the Hut-dominated government party CNDD-FDD. In September 2018, a UN investigation found that extensive violations of human rights had been committed by the state, or actors acting on behalf of the state, against regime opponents in recent years.

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According to the constitution, there are multiparty systems and free party formation. In practice, CNDD-FDD acts almost completely without competition from other parties. After an unsuccessful coup attempt in May 2015, parts of the opposition are on the run. Violence, intimidation and harassment affecting regime opponents are not rarely carried out by the CNDD-FDD youth association Imbonerakure (in practice a youth militia). Imbonerakure, which also helps the police to fight demonstrations, has become increasingly important after the 2015 crisis.

Freedom of assembly and the right to demonstrate peacefully are restricted by the authorities. Voluntary organizations are reported to have made it more difficult to operate. It is becoming more common for human rights defenders to be threatened and arrested, which has led many to feel compelled to leave the country. In September 2018, the government announced that almost all civil society organizations were banned from operating, which was lifted two months later.

Women are under-represented in politics at all levels. The constitution says that at least 30 percent of the ministers in the government and of the members of the legislative National Assembly must be women.

The Constitution of 2018 gives the Hutus more power than the Tutsis, even though contradictions between the two peoples led to the outbreak of the civil war in 1993 and that the constitution introduced after the end of the war provided for the division of power (see Political system).

Abbreviated as BDI by Abbreviationfinder, Burundi is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. In 2019, Transparency International placed the country among the 15 worst (165th of 180 countries) in its index of corruption in the world (see the full list here). It was still an improvement with five investments since the previous year.

Freedom of expression and media

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press and opinion and Burundi had a lot of vibrant independent media until 2005, when CNDD-FDD and then-President Pierre Nkurunziza came to power. Subsequently, the media climate deteriorated and a number of privately owned media were temporarily shut down, citing “insecurity” or “disruptive reporting”.

The media situation has worsened sharply after the political crisis in 2015, when radio and TV stations were destroyed and about 100 journalists were forced into exile. Reporters, photographers and bloggers are exposed to threats and harassment by the police, the youth militia and the security service. Several journalists have been imprisoned or exiled.

Nowadays critically investigative journalists live dangerously. The government blames the free media for causing the crisis, on behalf of forces abroad. In 2018, the BBC and Voice of America lost their broadcasting licenses and in March 2019 the BBC was completely banned from operating in the country. Other etheric media have also been banned from broadcasting.

Reporters Without Borders placed Burundi in place in 160 of 180 countries in its index of freedom of the press in the world in 2020 (see the full list here). It was marginally better than conflict countries like Libya and Somalia and meant a race since 2008 when Burundi reached its top rank of 94.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary should be politically independent but in practice is under strong pressure from the government, which appoints all judges. The Tutsis have traditionally had a strong dominance over the judiciary, but it is being broken.

During the civil war in the 1990s, both the army and the hutumilies committed grave abuse against the civilian population. Respect for human rights has remained weak. A number of leading opposition politicians testify that they have been beaten and tortured since they were arrested and detained. Arbitrary arrests occur and hundreds of extra-judicial executions have been carried out since the spring of 2015. Information is also available about political murders and unresolved disappearances. The impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes is almost total. The death penalty was abolished in 2009.

In April 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to investigate the abuses committed in Burundi since April 2015. This led to the then President Nkurunziza deciding that Burundi should leave the ICC, which formally took place in October 2017. Burundi thus became the first country to take a such a step. The ICC announced that it did not prevent further investigation. One month later, a full-scale ICC investigation of the wave of violence surrounding the 2015 presidential election was opened.

Burundi Crime Rate & Statistics



Cessation of fire after UN mediation

Ceasefire is proclaimed between the army and the FNL rebels after UN mediation. FNL leader Agathon Rwasa returns from exile.


Allocated party chairman is sentenced to prison

CNDD-FDD’s deposed chairman Hussein Radjabu is sentenced to 13 years in prison for overthrowing activities and for slandering the president.

Struggles between the army and Huturebeller

Struggles erupt around the capital Bujumbura between the government army and the huturelle FNL.