A Chance for Justice in Burundi


The arrest of Burundi’s former prime minister, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni, should be followed by a full judicial investigation of abuses by the country’s security forces during his time in power, leading to the prosecution and fair trial of anyone responsible for serious crimes.

Bunyoni rose through the ranks of the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD) after the civil war. He was minister of public security from 2015 to 2020, including during a violent crackdown that began in 2015. At the time, Human Rights Watch documented how police killed and tortured suspected government opponents. He was removed from his position as prime minister in September 2022.

On April 23, Burundi’s national prosecutor Sylvestre Nyandwi, after days of confusion, confirmed Buyoni had been arrested. He is now in the custody of the national intelligence service according to the prosecutor’s office, and has been charged with undermining the internal security of the State as well as the national economy and abuse of power to illegally receive interest. However, there is no indication that criminal abuses by the police during his period of office are also being investigated. Last week, authorities also arrested Bunyoni’s right-hand man Désiré Uwamahoro, who has held several senior positions in the police. It is unclear what charges he is facing. Human Rights Watch and Burundian non-governmental organizations have documented cases of killings, torture, and arbitrary detention by Burundian police.

The opaque circumstances surrounding Bunyoni’s arrest are symptomatic of how political cases are often handled in Burundi. The national human rights commission (Commission nationale indépendante des droits de l'homme, CNIDH) tweeted on April 22 that it had visited him in detention. However, for several days, the authorities failed to confirm his whereabouts, whether he had access to a lawyer, or the conditions of his imprisonment. His wife and four of their children were reportedly held incommunicado at their house for five days from April 17.

Justice should not be at the mercy of political maneuverings and party in-fighting. Decisions to prosecute should be made on the basis of evidence following a full and independent criminal investigation, and by prosecutors independent of political interference. For the process to be transparent and credible, however, Bunyoni should be given a fair trial – in the presence of independent monitors – and be treated according to established legal rules and principles, including access to his lawyer and family.