HRW: Burundi represses opponents ahead of referendum

Referendum to enable President Nkurunziza to extend his rule until 2034

By Munira Abdelmenan Awel

Burundi's government is repressing opponents ahead of the constitutional referendum, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

The referendum is set to take place on May 17, 2018, and if President Pierre Nkurunziza wins it, it would allow him to extend his rule until 2034 although he is already serving a controversial third term.

According to the HRW's statement, 19 cases of physical abuse have been confirmed since Dec. 12, all committed in a trial to intimidate people into voting Yes. The abuses have left at least one person dead from a severe beating for failing to present a registration receipt of the referendum. Another person died from wounds he is suspected to have sustained in a detention center.

Ida Sawyer, HRW’s Central Africa director, expressed concerns, saying, “There is little doubt that the upcoming referendum will be accompanied by more abuses.”

Besides the abuses committed against opponents, government officials are reported to be threatening citizens to vote Yes. A resident of the Makamba province in the southern part of Burundi told HRW: “The communal administrator called a meeting in January to explain the referendum and why we had to vote Yes."

The unrest in Burundi started in April 2015 when Nkurunziza announced his candidacy for a controversial third term whereas only two terms are allowed by the constitution.

The crisis so far has led to hundreds of deaths and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the country and seek refuge in neighboring states, according to the UN.

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