Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

Too soon to lift EU sanctions on Burundi, NGOs warn

  • Burundi sanctions are not on the official agenda when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday

The EU should not relax sanctions against Burundi until the regime there has stopped persecuting journalists and human rights activists, leading NGOs have said.

"The EU should not rely on promises of human rights reforms from the Burundian authorities, and insist instead that they meet concrete benchmarks," 12 NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in an open letter to EU foreign ministers on Monday (21 June).

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The sanctions, imposed in 2016, include a ban on EU budgetary assistance and blacklisting of regime henchmen.

The government has since made progress, for instance, by pardoning four journalists and releasing more than 2,500 prisoners.

But one prominent human rights defender, Germain Rukuki, is still serving a 32-year sentence, while an opposition MP, Fabien Banciryanino, was jailed last year, the NGOs noted.

Pro-government militias are given free rein to police parts of the country, where "unidentified dead bodies are still [being] found", they said.

Political opponents are being arrested and mistreated on a daily basis.

"Dozens of new torture cases have been documented since the 2020 elections, and at least one detainee died in detention after being tortured by intelligence agents in 2021," the NGOs noted.

And there have been "no credible investigations" into the extra-judicial killings which took place at the height of a political crisis in 2015 to 2016.

Meanwhile, "the few independent media outlets that are allowed to operate exercise self-censorship and avoid controversial issues. Journalists are regularly threatened or harassed by government and ruling party officials," the NGOs added.

"The Burundian government has failed to implement reforms in most of [the] areas" stipulated as EU conditions when the sanctions were first imposed, they said.

The appeal came amid heightened diplomacy by the former Belgian colony in east Africa to get off the hook.

"It's high time we close the chapter of 2015 to 2020, so we discussed a lot on issues regarding human rights, justice, good governance, and co-operation," Burundian foreign minister Albert Shingiro said in April after meeting the Belgian, Dutch, French, and German ambassadors there.

He also issued a similar message after meeting Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the French minister of state for tourism and French nationals abroad, also in April.

The EU sanctions expire in October unless they are renewed for another year.

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