By Staff Reporter
Amnesty International has observed that today’s constitutional referendum in Burundi that could extend current President Pierre Nkurunziza’s term in office has been severely marred by a government crackdown on freedom of expression.
The international human rights watchdog said this morning that although President Nkurunziza was likely to remain in power until 2034 if a proposed amendment to the constitution was adopted, the run-up to the referendum has been tainted by violence and increasing repression of dissent.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country since 2015 in fear for their lives – including many leading activists and opposition politicians – and the space for dissenting views has been all but closed down by the authorities,” Rachel Nicholson, Amnesty International’s Burundi Researcher said.
“The attack in Ruhagarika tragically illustrated the tense environment in which the referendum is taking place and the risks of further abuses. The authorities must ensure the investigation into the incident is thorough and impartial, and that those suspected of responsibility are brought to justice in fair trials. The reports of arrests, beatings and intimidation of real and perceived opponents of the constitutional amendments suggest the human rights situation in Burundi is only getting worse.”
Burundi has experienced a political and human rights crisis since President Nkurunziza announced his decision to stand for a third term in office in April 2015.
Widespread street protests that were violently repressed, leaving scores dead and hundreds injured, and a failed coup attempt followed President Nkurunziza’s decision in May 2015.
The proposed amendments to the Constitution stem from a national Inter-Burundian Dialogue, which was held without the participation of the exiled political opponents or independent civil society.
The referendum is taking place ahead of the conclusion of a dialogue convened under the auspices of the East African Community aimed at ending the crisis.