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US ends sanctions against Burundi as activists slam decision

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Mary Altaffer/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Exiled Burundian lawyer Armel Niyongere, an opposition figure, on Thursday called on the international community and France not to resume cooperation with Burundi, where he said human rights are not respected.

"Since Evariste Ndayishimiye, the new president elected in June 2020, took power, there has been a continuous regression: many cases of forced disappearances, torture, assassinations," the president of the Association of Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) in Burundi told AFP.

Sentenced to life imprisonment in his home country, under threat for defending several opponents, Armel Niyongere found refuge in Belgium in 2014.

"France and the entire European Union should make the resumption of cooperation conditional on respect for human rights in Burundi," says Armel Niyongere.

In June, the EU ambassador to Burundi, Claude Bochu, announced that he was working to lift the European sanctions that have been imposed on the country since 2015, welcoming "the positive developments initiated by the President of the Republic in terms of good governance, rule of law and human rights."

These budgetary sanctions had been taken in response to serious human rights violations under the presidency of Pierre Nkurunziza, Evariste Ndayishimiye's predecessor.

The 2015 announcement of Pierre Nkurunziza's candidacy for a controversial third term had plunged the country into a serious political crisis, marked by summary executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and sexual violence targeting dissenting voices.

The election of Mr. Ndayishimiye in May 2020, after the sudden death of Mr. Nkurunziza, raised hopes of an opening.

Notably, he pardoned four journalists from the Iwacu news group in December 2020 who were convicted of state security offenses while investigating armed clashes.

Human rights activist Germain Rukuki, sentenced to 32 years in prison in 2018, also had his sentence reduced to one year in prison last June.

But the overall human rights situation remains "dire" and has "in some respects deteriorated," the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi found in a report in September.

ACAT-Burundi counted 695 cases of killings during Ndayishimiye's term. And of the 5,000 political prisoners the government promised to release, Niyongere estimates that only 3 to 4,000 have been released.

"All these violations continue to be committed with impunity," says the activist. "There is no investigation, no prosecution of the alleged perpetrators."

The opponent implicates the intelligence services, which report to the presidency of the Republic, the police, the army, but also the young militants of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure.

The United States announced Thursday the lifting of sanctions imposed in 2015 on Burundi then shaken by a violent political crisis, hailing an improvement since the election of Evariste Ndayishimiye in May 2020 as president of the Great Lakes African country.

In an executive order, U.S. President Joe Biden said the situation that had justified the sanctions, including "killings and violence against civilians" and "political repression," had been "significantly altered by the events of the past year."

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