Burundi’s ruling party is extorting donations from the local populace for the upcoming 2020 elections, in many cases with threats or force, by using local officials and members of its widely feared youth wing, Human Rights Watch revealed in a report today.
Members of the youth group, the Imbonerakure, have blocked access to basic public services for those who cannot show a receipt for their payment.
“Local authorities and Imbonerakure members exercise a terrifying level of control over people’s movements and basic activities like buying food, seeing a doctor, or getting water,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The election levy has opened the door to unbridled abuse.”
The 48-page report, “‘We Let Our Children Go Hungry’: Abuses Related to 2020 Election Levy in Burundi” documents the campaign by the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy party (CNDD-FDD) with the youth wing and local officials to collect “voluntary” contributions from the population.
Human Rights Watch found that people have been forced to pay multiple times or more than the officially requested amount, or were not given a receipt, exacerbating the situation.
A December 2017 government order established the contributions to be collected in various ways, including “voluntary” donations of 2,000 Burundian Francs (US$1.08) per household, 1,000 Burundian Francs ($0.54) per student of voting age, and direct deduction from the salaries of public sector workers and civil servants.
But members of the Imbonerakure, who have no official role in the government or in collecting taxes, used violence and intimidation to extort money from Burundians.They set up roadblocks to check receipts and restricted access to markets, schools, water pumps, and administrative services for those who failed to comply, Human Rights Watch found.
Victims said that Imbonerakure members at food distribution centers managed by aid groups had beaten people, prevented them from getting food, or have forcibly taken food from them.
Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases during 2019 in which members of the Imbonerakure, sometimes working with police or local authorities, carried out killings, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and beatings of real or suspected political opponents.
In October, four members of the youth league were convicted of killing an opposition member and sentenced to life in prison. However, the Imbonerakure, who are often described as having more power than the police, have overall been shielded from justice and rarely been held accountable for their abuses.
President Pierre Nkurunziza announced the suspension of the collections in July 2019, claiming their objective had almost been met, but said those who wished to continue contributing could do so.
Human Rights Watch found that the election levies are still being collected, albeit on a lesser scale, while the youth wing and local officials continue to collect other “donations” to the ruling party and other local projects. (Source: HRW)