The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Burundi is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Burundi is not a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Burundi is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Burundi is a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but has not allowed the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 32 of the 2005 Constitution of the Republic of Burundi (as amended) guarantees freedom of assembly.
The primary national legislation governing assemblies is Law 1/28 of 5 December 2013 on Public Gatherings. The Law requires notification to the competent authority four working days before the date of any planned assembly.Arts. 4, 5, 7, and 8, Law 1/28 of 5 December 2013 on Public Gatherings.In practice, however, the notification is treated as a request for authorisation, which is often denied. The 2013 law offers discretion to the authorities to determine that a planned assembly would endanger public order ("ordre public", a concept that is not defined) and therefore prohibit the assembly.Arts. 5 and 8, Law 1/28 of 5 December 2013 on Public Gatherings.Spontaneous assemblies are not lawful in Burundi because of the legislative requirements for prior notice.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and prioportionate to that purpose.
According to Article 13 of the 2017 law on the police, the Burundi Police may only use force where necessary for a legitimate law enforcement objective. All use of force must be "reasonable and proportionate to the objective being sought".
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life. Lethal force may never be used to disperse or arrest demonstrators.
The 2017 law on the police does not regulate the use of firearms by the Burundi Police. Police use of firearms is governed by Ordinance No. 215/891 of 9 July 2009 on the Code of Ethics of the Burundi National Police. This directive stipulates that firearms may be used where necessary:
- in self-defence
- against criminals who have a firearm ready to use against people
- when they cannot otherwise defend people, positions, the transportation of dangerous objects or other items under their protection.
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Burundi, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about the 2013 law on public demonstrations,
whose general wording, and specifically use of the term “public order”, could serve as the basis for an arbitrary interpretation that could give rise to a prohibition on demonstrations. In this regard, the Committee takes note with concern of reports that political parties and other groups have been prohibited from demonstrating in the State party and that demonstrators have been intimidated and harassed.
The Committee called on Burundi to "revise its legislation to remove any unnecessary restriction on freedom of assembly".
In 2016, the Final Report of the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), established pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-24/1, concluded that the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly were "virtually non-existent".
In a 2018 resolution on Burundi, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights called upon the Government of the Republic of Burundi to:
Respect, protect and guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, in line with the country’s Constitution and its international obligations to adhere to the rule of law;
Conduct without delay transparent and impartial investigations against all those responsible for human rights violations, including members of the security forces and violent actors affiliated to political parties, in order to bring the perpetrators to justice....
Views of Civil Society
In 2020, Freedom House reported that
Opposition or antigovernment meetings and rallies are usually prevented or dispersed, and participants in gatherings seen as antigovernment face harassment or arrest. Many people who participated in 2015 protests against late president Nkurunziza fled Burundi amid a subsequent crackdown.
Major election rallies were held during the run-up to the May 2020 poll, despite concerns that they would facilitate the spread of COVID-19. That same month, four WHO staff members were forced to leave Burundi after voicing concerns over the rallies.
In its 2015 publication, Braving Bullets: Excessive Force in Policing Demonstrations in Burundi, Amnesty International reported on the police response to demonstrations in 2015 against the regime:
The police response to the demonstrations was marked by a pattern of serious violations, including of the right to life, freedom of association and peaceful assembly. They used excessive and disproportionate force, including lethal force, against protesters, at timesshooting unarmed protesters running away from them. Even where children were present during demonstrations, police still failed to exercise restraint, and used tear gas and live ammunition.