A Rundown of Troubling Stories that Made International Headlines Since March 2019

Last updated 7 June 2019

// On March 5, 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced that the government of Burundi had shuttered the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi’s capital city of Bujumbura. 

The Burundian government claimed that the existence of the UN office was no longer justified, because Burundi had made sufficient progress in putting in place national mechanisms for the protection of human rights. Ms. Bachelet disagreed, saying the Office continued to receive allegations of human rights violations and abuses, but was severely hampered in its ability to investigate them.

// A week later, on March 12, 2019, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi provided an oral briefing to the Human Rights Council, emphasizing that the crisis was not over.

“Our role seems to us more than ever necessary as this Commission remains the only international mechanism capable of independently investigating the human rights situation in the country, which remains very worrying,” the statement reads in part. “ … To our knowledge, the main perpetrators of serious violations and international crimes committed since 2015 have not been prosecuted, and they still hold positions of responsibility within the security and defense forces or within Imbonerakure, whose connivance with these forces has been highlighted in our reports.”

The oral briefing noted that “cases of sexual violence persist, presumably favored by the general climate of impunity prevailing in the country and the socio-economic vulnerability of households, particularly affecting women and girls in rural areas and those belonging to returned refugee families. Such violence also targets women whose family members are considered to be part of the political opposition.”

// During the same week, authorities in Burundi arrested seven schoolchildren for the crime of scribbling on a photograph of President Nkurunziza in their schoolbooks. Four were released but three others, all teenagers under the age of 18, were jailed. On March 18, they were charged with insulting the head of state, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

A week later, after an international outcry, the girls were released.

Future cases will be prosecuted, insisted Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, Burundi’s minister for justice.

“We call on parents to strengthen the education of their children. We remind children that they have to respect authorities, that the age of criminal responsibility is 15,” she said. “Next time, the justice will clamp down on such behaviors.”

// On March 29, the government of Burundi banned the BBC and indefinitely suspended Voice of America.

The central African nation’s media regulator revoked the BBC’s license and accused it of airing a documentary that it said was false and damaged the country’s reputation. It extended an existing suspension on VOA, accusing it of employing a reporter who opposed the government.

// On May 14, Burundi’s chief justice ordered the seizure of property belonging to jailed army officers and exiled opposition activists accused of supporting a supposed plot against President Nkurunziza.

“Pierre Nkurunziza and his henchmen continue the persecution of opponents of the 3rd mandate by seizing their property… a decision which once again ridicules the Burundian justice system,” Vital Nshimirimana, one of the exiled opposition figures targeted in the order, wrote on Twitter.

// On May 28, the UN Security Council abruptly scrapped a meeting on Burundi after Burundi's government made clear it was ready to end relations with Michel Kafando, the UN Envoy to Burundi since 2017.

Burundi's UN Ambassador Albert Shingiro has demanded that the Security Council put an end to meetings, held every three months, on the situation in his country.

Shingiro argues that the situation in Burundi is not a threat to international peace and security, a stance supported by Russia, China and African countries on the council, diplomats said.

"The 2020 electoral process in Burundi is an internal affair," Shingiro told AFP. "Burundi will not allow meddling by any foreign actor, regardless of their status."


// On May 30, the Southern African Development Community announced that it rejected Burundi’s application to join the bloc, saying Bujumbura did not meet all the requirements.

A SADC statement quoted the SADC chair, Namibian President Hage Geingob, as saying that Burundi did not meet the bloc’s admission requirements after the latest assessment.

President Geingob told the press, “The SADC assessment mission was in Burundi, but recommended that it is not yet beneficial for Burundi to be admitted into SADC,” due to what he called the unresolved democratic process in that country.

“We are also concerned about the counter-accusations between Burundi and Rwanda about interference in each other’s internal affairs,” the Namibian leader said. 

(UN Photo / Martine Perret)