The International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 marked 1,500 days since Burundi journalist Jean Bigirimana went missing, allegedly after being arrested by the country’s National Intelligence Service.
Bigirimana has not been seen or heard from since July 22, 2016, and his wife Godeberthe Hakizimana and two young sons are still waiting for answers.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa said that “more than four years after Jean Bigirimana’s enforced disappearance, the Burundian government’s failure to account for him is an affront to the principles of truth, justice and accountability.”
“The agony of Jean Bigirimana’s family is unimaginable.”
“President Ndayishimiye’s government must end the practice of enforced disappearances immediately, and fully investigate and, where there is sufficient evidence of criminal responsibility, prosecute perpetrators of enforced disappearances. Families have the right to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones,” Muchena continued.
Until his disappearance, Bigirimana, who had studied law at university, pursued his passion for journalism at the Iwacu Press Group, one of Burundi’s last remaining independent media organisations.
He was among a few journalists who defied the intimidation and harassment that forced many media workers to flee Burundi in the aftermath of the failed coup of May 13, 2015. The coup attempt followed late President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a controversial third term in office.
Bigirimana was last seen on July 22, 2016 in Bugarama, Muramvya province, some 45km from the capital Bujumbura. Witnesses reported that he was taken by people believed to be members of Burundi’s National Intelligence Service (Service National de Renseignement – SNR).
On that day, one of Jean’s colleagues at Iwacu newspaper received an anonymous call alerting him to the arrest.
Jean Bigirimana’s colleagues at Iwacu immediately started searching for him. When they received information about a sighting of two bodies, they scoured the area with the National Independent Human Rights Commission (CNIDH) and the police.
Two bodies were discovered in an advanced state of decomposition, but Godeberthe Hakizimana was able to confirm that neither was her husband’s. The bodies were never identified.
Like so many other families of people who have disappeared, Jean Bigirimana’s wife and children have suffered both material consequences and emotional distress while they maintain their hope for answers.
“The Burundian government should ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance as a first step towards rebuilding trust with the families of victims and their wider communities,” said Muchena.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi in its September 2019 report documented “numerous disappearances”, expressing “deep concern” about the frequency of such disappearances. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)