(Bujumbura, March 12, 2008) – Burundian authorities should promptly investigate grenade attacks on four prominent opposition politicians and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Burundians should be able to oppose the ruling party without risking their lives,” said Alison Des Forges, Africa division senior advisor at Human Rights Watch. “Political differences shouldn’t be settled with grenades.”
All four politicians targeted on March 8 had once been CNDD-FDD members. Three of them – Pasteur Mpawenayo, Mathias Basabose, and Zaituni Radjabu – left the party in early 2007, while the fourth, Alice Nzomukunda, former second vice-president of the republic and first vice-president of the National Assembly, was expelled from the CNDD-FDD in January 2008. Zaituni Radjabu is the sister of Hussein Radjabu, former chair of the CNDD-FDD who is now imprisoned and on trial for allegedly plotting against the government.
No one was injured in the grenade attacks, but the politicians’ homes were damaged. Several of the politicians went into hiding, fearing further attacks.
Just after the attacks, Burundian police arrested a young motorcycle taxi driver on the road near Nzomukunda’s house. According to Burundian police, the taxi driver’s passenger had fled the scene and an unexploded grenade was found beside the motorcycle. A police officer initially assured a Human Rights Watch researcher and United Nations human rights monitors that they could interview the taxi driver, who is in custody, but to date police have not permitted them to speak with him. Police also said a second suspect was arrested on March 11.
Several opposition politicians have been threatened and targeted for violence during the last 18 months. Nzomukunda, then second vice-president of the republic, fled Burundi in September 2006 after issuing a letter critical of the government; she returned in March 2007. Five parliamentarians from the opposition party Front for Democracy in Burundi (Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi, Frodebu) and from a dissident wing of the CNDD-FDD, including Mpawenayo, were targeted in a set of grenade attacks in August 2007 that injured several bystanders. Pancrace Cimpaye, Frodebu spokesperson, was detained after suggesting the ruling party bore responsibility for the August attacks; after being released, he briefly left the country. In February 2008, a local Frodebu official was killed, while another was seriously injured in a grenade attack which killed his wife and child.
The attacks of August 2007 and March 2008 both occurred at moments of political deadlock in parliament. The August 2007 crisis resulted from demands that opposition parties be granted the number of ministry posts accorded to them by the constitution, and was resolved in November 2007 by a reshuffling of the cabinet. This latest crisis derived from the CNDD-FDD’s expulsion of Nzomukunda and subsequent disagreement over the party’s decision to remove her from her leadership role in the National Assembly.
A former intelligence agent known as “Bienvenue” recorded a filmed confession shortly before he fled Burundi in December 2007, saying he had participated in some of the August attacks. He claimed that intelligence agents were trying to intimidate opposition politicians into ending their blockage of parliamentary action, which had then paralyzed the government. A victim of the August attacks told Human Rights Watch that Bienvenue’s account of the attacks seemed credible in light of what he himself had witnessed.
Increasing insecurity in Burundi spurred 46 opposition parliamentarians to write to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on February 22 to request international protection. They accused the ruling party of “persecution, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions, and assassination” of its opponents. The four targets of the March 8 attacks had all signed the letter. Similarly, several of the persons targeted in the August 2007 attacks had been among 67 members of parliament to sign a letter to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza three days earlier, expressing concern over the parliamentary deadlock and requesting that the government undertake genuine dialogue with the political opposition.
Following the August 2007 attacks, the government established a commission to investigate the incidents, but it never published any report. Several persons were detained in connection with the attack, but were later released without trial.
The government has established a new commission, headed by the regional head of the judicial police, Gaston Uwimana, to investigate the March 8 attacks. When Human Rights Watch contacted Uwimana on March 11, he said he could provide no information at that time on the mandate or composition of the new commission.
“The government should act to end these political attacks before anyone else is injured or killed,” said Des Forges. “The government should investigate these deplorable crimes and bring those responsible to justice.”