Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Burundi: Opposition Leader Detained, Released; Election Aid Suspended Before Military Coup

(May 13, 2015) On May 6, 2015, Burundian opposition leader Audifax Ndabitoreye was arrested by authorities on charges of insurrection. He had just met with ministers of the East African Community (EAC), a regional inter-governmental organization comprised of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. (Bradley McAllister, Burundi Police Arrest Opposition Leader for Insurrection After Meeting with African Ministers, PAPER CHASE (May 7, 2015).) EAC leaders were gathered in Burundi to help address the unrest in the country following the Constitutional Court’s decision on May 5 that permitted the President to run for a third term. (Id.; Constance Johnson, Burundi: Court Permits Third Bid for Presidency, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 7, 2015).)

Ndabitoreye was reportedly released after several hours. He stated, however, that the police may ask him to report back to them. (Burundi: Opposition Politician Arrested over Unrest Says He Has Been Released, FOX NEWS (May 7, 2015).)

The charge of insurrection could carry a sentence of from two years to life imprisonment, plus substantial fines, depending on the particulars of the charge. (Loi N°1 / 05 du 22 Avril 2009 Portant Revision du Code Penal [Law No. 5 of Apr. 22, 2009, on the Revision of the Penal Code ], arts. 597-599, World Intellectual Property Organization website.)

Since the May 5, 2015, Court decision, there have been extended protests and clashes in Burundi between demonstrators and police resulting in a number of fatalities. (Burundi: Opposition Politician Arrested over Unrest Says He Has Been Released, supra.) Speaking about the efforts of the EAC leaders to settle the situation in Burundi, Ndabitoreye said “[t]hey should have come a long time ago. Everyone knew the situation was getting worse … . You have a government militia that terrorizes people.” (Burundian Opposition Leader Arrested as Protests Continue, DOTHANEAGLE.COM (May 6, 2015).) He added that regardless of his own fate, the protest movement will not stop. “I know behind me there are thousands, millions of Burundi citizens, who believe things will change, who know in their flesh things must change.” (Id.)

Reaction from the International Criminal Court

On May 8, 2015, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda spoke about Burundi, stating that the Court would monitor the situation. “My office … will be closely following developments in Burundi in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or resorting to violence. … Any person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence liable to prosecution before the Court,” she stated. (ICC ‘Closely’ Watching Burundi Violence: Prosecutor, AFP (May 8, 2015), OPEN SOURCE CENTER online subscription database, ID No. AFR2015050871639777.)

Election Aid to Be Suspended

Following the unrest in Burundi, Belgium has suspended assistance for the upcoming elections and for its police mission to the country. Belgium has been the biggest supporter of Burundi’s elections, having already funded the process with half of a planned four million euros. The Belgian Minister for International Development, Alexander De Croo, has said that the current situation in the country is not favorable for free elections. (Belgium Suspends Financial Aid for Burundi Elections, AL JAZEERA (May 11, 2015).)

Recent Coup

On May 13, 2015, while the President was out of the country to attend an EAC meeting, the military reportedly carried out a coup. According to the BBC, in response to the unrest in the country, the military stepped in to take control. Major General Godefroid Niyombareh stated that a national salvation committee would be governing Burundi. (Burundi General Declares Coup Against President Nkurunziza, BBC (May 13, 2015).) Apparently the political opposition was not involved in the takeover. (Elsa Buchanan, Burundi: Army Coup D’Etat as President Pierre Nkurunziza Attends EAC Summit in Tanzania, INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES (May 13, 2015).)