Rights groups have criticized the European Union for lifting sanctions Tuesday against Burundi for what the EU said was progress on human rights, good governance, and the rule of law. The EU action follows the U.S. lifting sanctions in November. Rights groups say Burundi authorities continue to commit abuses, including against political dissidents.
The European Union is bringing the Burundi government into its political and economic system after being in the cold for at least six years.
The European body said it was convinced political progress had been made in the central African country.
In a statement, it said it acknowledges the progress made by the Burundian government on human rights issues, rule of law and good governance and wants to do more to improve its rights and governance record.
The decision to lift the sanctions has angered human rights groups.
Mausi Segun is the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division.
“It’s unfortunately premature. Nothing on the ground in Burundi gives any foundation or basis for lifting the sanctions … The EU and others like that institution are too much in haste to give credit to the government of Burundi when the victims of abuses and vicious crimes in Burundi deserve a lot more from the international community,” said Segun.
The EU follows the U.S., which lifted sanctions imposed on Burundi in 2015, when the country witnessed protests against then-Pierre Nkurunziza.
In stopping the protest Burundi security forces were accused of committing widespread rights violations against opponents and opposition groups.
The lifting of the sanctions is guided by the 2020 political transition from late President Nkurunziza to the current leader, Evariste Ndayishimiye.
When taking office in June 2020 President Ndayishimiye pledged to unite the country and deliver peace and justice to all.
Segun says the human rights situation has remained the same under the new government.
“The killings, the disappearances of people suspected by the government of working with the opposition or with so called rebel groups,” said Segun. “All of this continues to happen in the last one and half years that Ndayishimiye has been in office. We have seen hundreds of these types of cases, hundreds of cases of Burundians who have been killed unlawfully in that country and the disappearances of many more.”
In September 2021, a U.N. commission of inquiry on Burundi tasked to document human rights violations said, under Ndayishimiye’s government, no reforms have been undertaken to improve the human rights situation.
Carina Tertsakian works with the Burundi Human Rights Initiative. She says the European Union can use the newfound engagement with Burundi to address the abuses and killings.
“Now with this more positive climate between the EU and Burundi that can be an incentive for the Burundian government to take some concrete actions to reform and to improve the human rights situation that in my view will only happen if the European Union on its side continues raising these concerns,” said Carina. “There is an ongoing political dialogue between the EU and Burundi and that’s a very good opportunity to continue asking the Burundian government to address these issues.”
Human Rights Watch is calling on those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, whether in government or the ruling party youth wing accountable for the abuses, and the international community, to pay attention to what is happening in Burundi.