Official UAPDC Statement: Burundi Referendum Violates Democratic Norms and Basic Human Rights


As the Government of Burundi congratulates itself on securing a yes vote in the referendum held on 17 May, now is the time for anyone who believes in democracy or human rights to speak out about the cost at which this so-called victory has been secured.


Reports from organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, as well as opposition sources within the country suggest the vote has violated both democratic norms and the basic human rights of Burundi citizens.


According to the Government, last Thursday’s vote proceeded as planned, with a high number of voters turning out to vote yes to proposed amendments to the constitution that, among other things, would permit President Nkurunziza to run for office on two more occasions, with terms also lengthened in duration from five to seven years. 


Let us challenge this narrative for a moment, looking first at the fundamentally important question of human rights. There have been many accusations and distressing stories coming out of Burundi for some time now, and in particular since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term in office in 2015. In the case of this referendum we have a report published by Human Rights Watch last week that details numerous confirmed cases of human rights violations. These are not rumour, or hearsay, but verified accounts of the harm inflicted on citizens that include 15 documented killings, six rapes, and eight abductions, among other crimes.


The vote has also clearly violated basic democratic norms and therefore undermines the legitimacy which referenda are supposedly meant to confer on their outcome. Here again the HRW report is instructive in understanding the climate of fear and intimidation citizens faced. Meanwhile, if correct, opposition claims that ruling party representatives routinely accompanied citizens into the voting booths and opposition observers were frequently expelled from polling stations suggest the vote itself was neither free nor fair.


Silence in the face of such blatant violations of human rights and democracy is not an option.  We have to start calling out governments on such abuses and remind them that their legitimacy can only come from citizens who freely give them their support. We, as the United African Partnership for Democratic Change (UAPDC) implore the international community to condemn this vote.


Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane)

Hakainde Hichilema (@HHichilema)

Tendai Biti (@BitiTendai)

Raila Odinga (@RailaOdingaKE)

Winnie Kiiza (@winniekiiza1)

Zitto Kabwe (@zittokabwe)

Duma Boko (@DumaBoko)

Abel Chivukuvuku (@AbiChivukuvuku)

Mario Masuku (@PUDEMO)