Death of Pierre Nkurunziza: what will the future hold for victims in Burundi?


Pierre Nkurunziza has passed away of heart failure on 8 June 2020, according to official sources. What does his sudden death mean for this small country stuck in a grave crisis for the last five years?

The death of Pierre Nkurunziza doesn’t represent the end of the fight against impunity in Burundi. ©Landry Nshimiye

Pierre Nkurunziza was the president of Burundi for 15 years. The last five years of his mandated were marred by an increase of the worst human rights violations: enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, etc. In April 2015, Nkurunziza’s run for a third presidential mandate ignited political chaos, which gradually evolved into a “standardized crisis”.


What will the future hold for victims seeking justice?

Some victims of the crimes committed under Nkurunziza have felt that justice could now escape them, such as Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, a human rights defender who was repeatedly arrested and tortured. “I have been a victim of this government, so if the head of the government is no longer, it will be hard to bring him to justice. This is what hurts me. We were awaiting justice but it will be difficult now”, he told Deutsche Welle in French.

However, the fight against impunity does not stop with Nkurunziza’s death. “All members of the State apparatus who have committed atrocities must be held accountable. This applies to high-ranking military officials, police officers and national intelligence services alike” said Pamela Capizzi, National Coordinator for Burundi at TRIAL International.

Additionally, the cases against the State of Burundi itself, as a legal entity, remain relevant. “UN bodies and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights do not judge individuals, but States” explains Pamela Capizzi.


An opportunity to be seized?

Indifferently of what caused Nkurunziza’s death – some sources allege that he succumbed to the corovavirus – the question of his political legacy remains intact. A few weeks ago, national elections designated Evariste Ndayishimiye as the next president. But Nkurunziza, as the country’s “Supreme Patriotic Guide”, would have remained influential even after the handover of power in August.

Burundi could have a chance today to start a new chapter in its history, to break its isolation from the international community and to shed a light on the crimes of the past” concluded Pamela Capizzi. “Time will tell whether Nkurunziza’s successors will seize this opportunity”.

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