Burundian civil society groups on Wednesday angrily reproached the EU over its decision to resume financial aid to the country, saying the government was still trampling on human rights.
Tuesday’s EU move followed a similar decision by the United States last year, with Brussels saying there was a “window of hope” following elections in 2020 that brought President Evariste Ndayishimiye to power.
But a declaration signed by more than 15 exiled Burundian rights organizations and other campaign groups said they “deplore” the lifting of the sanctions.
In 2016, the European Union, then Burundi’s biggest aid donor, had suspended all direct funding to the government over its rights record and for failing to stop a wave of deadly violence.
Burundi was in turmoil at the time when then president Pierre Nkurunziza won a third term which the opposition branded illegal.
The unrest led to the deaths of 1,200 Burundians and sent 400,000 fleeing, with reports of arbitrary arrests, killings and disappearances.
“The situation we fled from remains the same today,” lamented Dieudonne Bashirahishize from the CAVIB lawyers collective, one of the statement’s signatories. “The Burundian regime has changed its rhetoric, but there has been no change on the ground.”
“The lifting of sanctions risks having very negative consequences,” he added, voicing fears the government will see it as a signal of approval by the European Union of its repressive policies.
The statement called on the EU to maintain sanctions on individuals behind rights violations and to press the Burundian authorities to urgently conduct independent investigations into reported abuses.
It also called for international and local civil society groups and journalists to be able to “work freely in Burundi, without fear for their safety”.
The EU said Tuesday its decision to lift the restrictions was a result of the “peaceful political process that started with the general elections of May 2020 and which has opened a new window of hope for the population of Burundi”.
It nevertheless acknowledged that “persisting challenges remain in the areas of human rights, good governance, reconciliation and the rule of law”.
A UN Commission of Inquiry said in September that the rights situation had deteriorated since Ndayishimiye took power in June 2020.
“Members of opposition parties… are still regularly targeted by abusive restrictions and are subject to grave human rights violations such as disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions and torture,” it said.