Civil and human rights groups have condemned Burundi's government decision to withdraw permits from a prominent human rights organisation and several other non-profit groups and called on the international community to take action to prevent the situation from "worsening".
Burundi's Interior Ministry earlier this week announced it was withdrawing permits from the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), run by prominent activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, and the Forum for Awareness and Development (FOCODE) after accusing them of "tarnishing the country's image and sowing hatred and divisions among the Burundian people".
APRODH and FOCODE were among a number of organisations to condemn President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in 2015, claiming it was unconstitutional. The government, in return, accused the group of siding with the opposition.
The interior minister Pascal Barandagiye this week signed an order banning the activities of five organisations, including a journalists union. The groups were accused of "disturbing public order and state security", according to Reuters.
On Wednesday (26 October), the general secretary of FOCODE and lawyer, Janvier Bigirimana, told IBTimes UK: "This is a deplorable decision because it is happening within a background of repression in Burundi, where human rights are violated. It is a threat to civil freedom and a threat to freedom of association – both of which rights are enshrined in Burundi's constitution, and international law."
The Strengthening of Civil Society (FORSC), Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), and the Network of Honest Citizens (RCP) were also permanently banned under the 19 October order.
'Measure aims at muzzling any discordant voices'
Following the previous crackdown on independent media, and blanket ban on civil rights groups, APRODH was one of the few remaining organisations capable of carrying out reliable investigations into rights violations of an increasingly isolated population in the capital and, more importantly, in more remote areas of the country.
"This (new) measure aims at muzzling any discordant voices against the power in place in [capital city] Bujumbura," Bigirimana said, highlighting Mbonimpa's inquiries into cases of alleged torture, extrajudicial killings and rape.
"The most sacred right – the right to live – has been taken to many in Burundi." In August, Mbonimpa spoke exclusively to IBTimes UK about APRODH's investigation into at least 14 mass graves throughout Burundi.
'If nothing is done, the situation will worsen'
Lewis Mudge, researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, echoed Bigirimana's view. "It's going to get a lot more difficult to know what is happening in Burundi. This is another warning sign," he said in a Tweet.
The situation of human rights defenders are barometers of public liberties in conflict situations: things tilt the moment right defenders are attacked and civilians are targeted, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told IBTimes UK earlier this year.
Bigirimana called on the international community "to make every effort to ensure Bujumbura does not continue to violate civilians' rights". "If nothing is done, the situation will worsen," he said.
US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said on Twitter: "Amid severed ties with the United Nations Human Rights office and plans to leave (the) ICC, Burundi's crackdown on NGOs (is an) ominous sign of (the) country's direction".
Mbonimpa fled to Europe after surviving an assassination attempt by unidentified gunmen last year.