Not Free
PR Political Rights 4 40
CL Civil Liberties 10 60
Last Year's Score & Status
14 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Burundi has been in political and economic crisis since 2015. Democratic gains made after the 12-year civil war ended in 2005 have been undone by a shift toward authoritarian politics and violent repression against anyone perceived to oppose the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD).

header2 Key Developments in 2021

  • In March, President Évariste Ndayishimiye pardoned over 5,200 prisoners via decree, citing overcrowding. However, the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi reported that only 2,600 pardoned prisoners were released by July, and that some were later rearrested or kidnapped.
  • In June, the European Union (EU) announced its intention to lift sanctions against Burundi, though that process was not completed by year’s end.
  • The government lifted bans on some media outlets during the year. Bans on RSF Bonesha FM and the Ikiriho media outlet were lifted in February and June respectively. However, bans on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) remained in effect at year’s end.
  • Burundians faced several security incidents in September. The government blamed terrorists for grenade attacks in the cities of Bujumbura and Gitega, while a rebel group claimed responsibility for a mortar attack against Bujumbura’s airport. At least five people died in the Bujumbura grenade attack, while another two died in Gitega.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1.001 4.004

Burundi adopted a new constitution in 2005 after a series of agreements ended the country’s 12-year civil war. The constitution was amended in 2018 through a referendum. Among other provisions, the amended constitution lengthened presidential terms from five years to seven, consolidating the rule of then president Pierre Nkurunziza—who had served three terms—and the CNDD-FDD.

In January 2020, CNDD-FDD insiders selected Évariste Ndayishimiye, a former army general and interior minister, as the party’s candidate to succeed Nkurunziza for that May’s election. Ndayishimiye won 71.5 percent of the vote, while Agathon Rwasa of the National Congress for Liberty (CNL) received 25.2 percent. Gaston Sindimwo of the Union for National Progress (UPRONA) received 1.7 percent, while others received 1.6 percent.

The contest was marred by a wide-ranging campaign of repression, which the UN CoI said included the intelligence services, police, and the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth wing. However, violence and repression were less prevalent during the 2020 electoral period when compared to 2015. Relatively few COVID-19 mitigation measures were enforced during the 2020 campaign, with the CNDD-FDD encouraging large election rallies. Several days before election day, the government expelled World Health Organization (WHO) officials who voiced concern over the campaigning. International observers were also barred. The CNL claimed that the results were fraudulent, though the Constitutional Court upheld them in June. Nkurunziza died days after the election, with Ndayishimiye consequently succeeding him that month, ahead of schedule.

The president appoints a vice president, who must be approved separately by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. The 2018 constitutional amendments reintroduced the position of prime minister. In late June 2020, Prosper Bazombanza was named vice president, while former public security minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni was named prime minister.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Parliament’s lower house, the National Assembly, includes 100 members who are directly elected via proportional representation along with 23 “co-opted” members to ensure that members of the Hutu ethnic group hold 60 percent of the house while Tutsis hold 40 percent. Members serve five-year terms. The upper house, the Senate, consists of 39 members, 36 of whom are chosen by locally elected officials for five-year terms. Three seats are reserved for the Twa ethnic group.

National Assembly elections took place concurrently with the May 2020 presidential elections, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a campaign to repress opposition groups. The CNDD-FDD secured 86 seats, while the CNL secured 32 and UPRONA secured 2. The Twa received 3 seats via co-option.

Senators were indirectly elected in July 2020; the CNDD-FDD received 34 seats, while the CNL and UPRONA each received 1. Twa members held 3 seats.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0.000 4.004

The five-member Independent National Electoral Commission is under the effective control of the ruling CNDD-FDD. In 2015, two members who fled the country amid that year’s unrest were replaced with pro-Nkurunziza appointees approved by a CNDD-FDD-controlled Parliament. Constitutional amendments extending presidential term limits, consolidating power in the executive, and allowing for a future revision of the Burundian ethnic power-sharing system were approved in a 2018 referendum that was marred by a violent intimidation campaign conducted by the CNDD-FDD.

CNL presidential candidate Rwasa challenged the conduct of the 2020 presidential election, alleging incidents of ballot-box stuffing, falsified election reports, and votes counted from deceased or exiled citizens. The Constitutional Court rejected that challenge that June.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1.001 4.004

Political party formation is legally allowed, but the activities of opposition parties and political leaders are discouraged under the threat of retaliatory violence, repression, or arrest. Individuals are also intimidated into joining the CNDD-FDD.

The UN CoI’s August 2021 report to the UN Human Rights Council noted that authorities continued to arbitrarily arrest and disappear opposition party members. The report also noted that CNL offices were targeted by opponents and that CNL members face difficulties in holding meetings. In July, Elie Ngomirakiza, a CNL leader in Mutimbuzi commune, was reportedly kidnapped by soldiers. Ngomirakiza’s whereabouts remained unknown as of September.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0.000 4.004

The opposition has little realistic opportunity to increase its popular support through elections. Opposition parties, politicians, and their supporters face harassment, intimidation, and assassination. Many are forced to operate in exile.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0.000 4.004

The Imbonerakure, National Intelligence Service (SNR), and police are allies of the CNDD-FDD and use violence and intimidation to influence people’s political choices.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

The 2005 constitution requires power-sharing between Hutus and Tutsis in Parliament, and additionally stipulates that women and Twa representatives be seated in both houses. However, the constitutional revisions approved in 2018 require that these ethnic quotas be reviewed over the next five years, opening the door for their elimination.

In June 2020, President Ndayishimiye appointed Imelde Sabushimike as human rights minister; Sabushimike is the country’s first Twa cabinet minister.

Women face social pressure that can deter active political participation, and few women hold political office at senior levels. A 2020 UN CoI report noted that women face state-sanctioned violence for perceived or actual opposition to the CNDD-FDD.

The CNDD-FDD apparatus has violently targeted returning refugees on suspicion of opposition sympathies, along with individuals suspected of ties to Burundian rebels operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

The ruling CNDD-FDD, whose election to power fell far short of standards for free and fair elections, controls policy development and implementation.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0.000 4.004

Corruption is rampant in Burundi. Corrupt officials generally enjoy impunity, even when wrongdoing is exposed by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other actors. Anticorruption organizations are underresourced and ineffective.

Though President Ndayishimiye has vowed to address corruption, his actions in office have been contradictory. The Ndayishimiye administration dismissed over 120 government employees for embezzlement between February and May 2021, though none of them faced prosecution. In May, the president dismissed Commerce Minister Immaculée Ndabaneze after over suspicions of embezzlement. Ndayishimiye also reorganized Burundian anticorruption bodies since taking office, abolishing an anticorruption court and an anticorruption brigade and placing their functions within existing offices. In September 2021, the UN CoI criticized Ndayishimiye’s declaration that civil servants can accept bribes to “contribute to the development of the country.”

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0.000 4.004

Government operations are opaque, and government officials are generally unaccountable to voters. There are few opportunities for civil society actors and others to participate in policymaking. Due to recurrent assassinations and assassination attempts, politicians are wary of organizing town hall–style meetings or making other public appearances before voters.

The government was not transparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with authorities providing little scientific information.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 0.000 4.004

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed but severely restricted in practice by draconian press laws and a dangerous operating environment for media workers, who risk threats, harassment, and arrest in response to their coverage. A 2013 media law limits the protection of journalistic sources, requires journalists to meet certain educational and professional standards, and bans content related to national defense, security, public safety, and the state currency. The government dominates the media through its ownership of the public television broadcaster, radio stations, and newspaper Le Renouveau. Key independent news outlets destroyed in the political violence of 2015 have yet to be reestablished.

The government has banned media outlets, though some bans were lifted in 2021. In February, the Burundian media regulator began talks to restore domestic access to the Iwacu outlet, though accessibility was not restored as of mid-2021. The regulator lifted the ban on RSF Bonesha FM in February and lifted bans on Ikiriho and the BBC in June. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that access to BBC content was still restricted at year’s end. The potential end to the ban on VOA was conditioned on the surrender of a VOA-affiliated journalist, which the outlet did not comply with.

Many journalists have fled the country since 2015, and some have been forcibly disappeared. In February 2021, the Supreme Court published a 2020 decision to issue life sentences against seven exiled journalists for their alleged involvement in the events of 2015.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of religion is generally observed. However, relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church, of which most Burundians are members, have worsened in recent years. In 2017, the government set up a commission to monitor religious groups and guard against political subversion within them. In 2019, the UN CoI reported that the government was exerting more control over churches to curb political dissent.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1.001 4.004

Both university students and staff who support the CNDD-FDD receive preferential treatment at academic institutions. Continued intimidation of opposition supporters has created an atmosphere of fear and limited free speech on university campuses. Reports indicate that teachers allied to the CNDD-FDD have intimidated students who are considered unsupportive, in some cases preventing them from attending school. Teachers are increasingly screened for political loyalty to the ruling party.

Some schools barred students of voting age who had not made monetary contributions to the 2020 elections from attending class, though the practice was prohibited in 2019.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 0.000 4.004

The SNR and the Imbonerakure actively surveil private citizens. There is a reluctance to engage in speech which could be perceived as critical of the CNDD-FDD for fear of reprisal. The Imbonerakure used surveillance and harassment tactics in the run-up to the 2018 referendum, such as ensuring citizens paid election taxes and attacking those who had not, while assaulting individuals expressing opposition to the ruling party. Social media and messaging applications were notably blocked on election day in 2020.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 0.000 4.004

Opposition or antigovernment meetings and rallies are usually prevented or dispersed, and participants face harassment or arrest. Many people who participated in the 2015 protests against late president Nkurunziza fled Burundi amid a subsequent crackdown.

In August 2021, the UN CoI noted that the strictest restrictions on assembly were effectively loosened after the 2020 elections, as the CNL was perceived as a less acute threat to the CNDD-FDD.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 0.000 4.004

NGOs in Burundi face restrictive registration laws and persecution for activity seen as hostile to the government. A number of human rights and other groups perceived as antigovernment were banned during the 2018 referendum and the 2020 elections, and many of their members have fled the country. A May 2021 HRW report noted that NGO workers avoided open criticism of the government.

Human rights advocates can face arrest and imprisonment. In 2018, antitorture and antipoverty advocate Germain Rukuki was sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment on charges including rebellion. An appeals court reduced Rukuki’s sentence to 1 year in June 2021, and Rukuki was released by July.

In April 2021, the government reversed its ban on ‎Words and Actions for the Awakening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities‎, an anticorruption NGO.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1.001 4.004

The constitution provides protections for organized labor, and the labor code guarantees the right to strike. However, it is unlikely that union members would feel free to exercise legally guaranteed collective bargaining rights in the current political climate.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0.000 4.004

The judiciary is hindered by corruption and a lack of resources and training. The judiciary is generally subservient to the executive, which regularly interferes in the criminal justice system to protect CNDD-FDD and Imbonerakure members and persecute the political opposition.

In 2020, the Constitutional Court partially checked the CNDD-FDD’s power by upholding a challenge to the disqualification of an opposition parliamentary candidate. However, it did not entertain a challenge over the conduct of the presidential election, despite evidence of widespread fraud and intimidation. The UN CoI criticized the judiciary’s performance in its August 2021 report, citing corruption and the CNDD-FDD’s continued interference. The UN CoI also reported that Germain Rukuki’s appeal was affected by executive interference, noting that the reduction in his sentence was not promulgated until after the EU announced its intention to lift sanctions against Burundi.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

The courts, police, and security forces do not operate independently or professionally, and constitutional guarantees of due process are generally not upheld. Arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention are common. The World Prison Brief (WPB) reported that 54.6 percent of all prisoners were pretrial detainees as of December 2021.

Defendants must provide their own legal representation, making trial rights dependent on the ability to afford a lawyer. Some detainees accused of participating in the 2015 protests or subsequent antigovernment violence did not have access to lawyers and were forced to make false confessions under threat of death.

The Burundian prison system is overcrowded, with the WPB reporting the prison population at 303 percent of capacity as of December 2021. Prisoners risked contracting COVID-19, with healthcare workers reporting that quarantine measures were insufficiently enforced within the prison system in 2020. In March 2021, President Ndayishimiye pardoned over 5,200 prisoners via decree, citing overcrowding. However, only 2,600 individuals were released by July according to the UN CoI, which noted that some were subsequently rearrested or kidnapped.

In 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by the government. Burundi left the ICC days later, becoming the first country in the world to do so.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

The security situation in Burundi remains extremely poor. The August 2021 UN CoI report notes that widespread human rights violations persist; violations include forced disappearance, execution, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. The report identified the SNR as the principal perpetrator, though it also noted the involvement of the Imbonerakure and police. A 2018 BBC investigative report found that the government operated at least 22 secret facilities where dissidents were reportedly tortured and killed. The government called the report “fake” and threatened to sue the BBC.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 265,000 Burundian refugees resided domestically or in nearby countries as of December 2021, including 140,000 returnees from Tanzania and another 125,000 still residing there.

Several security incidents were reported in 2021. In May, at least 12 people were killed when vehicles traveling in central Burundi were ambushed in an apparent robbery attempt. Another 18 died when a convoy in central Burundi was attacked by unidentified armed assailants in June. Grenade attacks were reported in Bujumbura and Gitega in September, which the government blamed on terrorists. Five people were killed in Bujumbura, while another two were killed in Gitega. Also in September, a rebel group launched a mortar attack against Bujumbura’s airport but did not significantly damage it.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

Despite quotas for representation in the National Assembly, the Twa population remains marginalized relative to the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. People living with albinism face systematic discrimination and violence. LGBT+ people also experience official and societal discrimination. The 2009 penal code criminalizes same-sex sexual activity, and punishments include up to two years in prison.

Discrimination against women is common in access to education, healthcare, and employment.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1.001 4.004

Since 2015, concerns for personal safety have restricted free movement, particularly in neighborhoods regarded as opposition strongholds and where security forces frequently conduct search operations. In 2020, the UN CoI reported that the Imbonerakure maintained a checkpoint system to control population movement, despite official instructions for the organization to refrain from such activity. Some local authorities have imposed curfews on women and girls.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1.001 4.004

Land conflict has been an explosive issue in Burundi for decades, which was exacerbated by the return of displaced populations after the end of the civil war in 2005. Many returnees found new owners occupying their land, and the courts have often failed to fairly adjudicate land disputes. Some refugees who fled in 2015 reportedly returned to find their land occupied.

Due to customary law, women are typically unable to inherit property. The deteriorating security situation hampers private business activity in Burundi, as does rampant corruption.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

Sexual and domestic violence are serious problems but are rarely reported to law enforcement agencies. Rights monitors continue to report sexual violence carried out by security forces and the Imbonerakure, who act with impunity. Women are often targeted for rape if they or their spouses refuse to join the CNDD-FDD. Men sometimes experience sexual abuse while in government custody.

According to the citizenship code, a Burundian woman married to a foreign national cannot pass on her citizenship to her husband or children.

The constitution explicitly bans same-sex marriage.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1.001 4.004

Individuals not allied with the ruling party may lose their employment. Community service requirements have taken on political overtones, such as building offices for the CNDD-FDD, amounting to what a 2019 UN report called forced labor.

Women have limited opportunities for advancement in the workplace. Much of the population is impoverished. In 2017, “vagrancy” and begging by able-bodied persons became formal offenses under the penal code. The ongoing political and humanitarian crisis has contributed to an economic decline, less access to basic services, and deteriorating living conditions.

Human trafficking continues to be a serious issue in Burundi, with the International Organization on Migration counting over 1,000 trafficking victims between 2017 and July 2021. Burundian government employees are reportedly complicit in trafficking girls. In February 2021, the Burundian and Kenyan governments collaborated to secure the extradition of a Burundian official accused of involvement in trafficking.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    14 100 not free