It has been more than 1,500 days since the Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana went missing.
The journalist, who worked at the independent Iwacu newspaper, was allegedly arrested by the country’s National Security Service in Bugarama on 22 July 2016 and has not been seen since.
Burundi was hit with widespread violence, arrests, killings and kidnappings in 2015 when the then president, Pierre Nkurunziza, decided to seek a third term.
Government forces and armed opposition groups were alleged to have targeted journalists and civil society activists. The chaos in the country led to many journalists fleeing, but Bigirimana was one of the few who decided to stay and report on events in the country.
It has been over four years since he was last seen, and his sad disappearance was remembered as the world marked International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, said Bigirimana’s family were facing unimaginable agony.
In a statement, he said it is an affront to truth and justice that the journalist has not been accounted for. Muchena called on the new government, led by Évariste Ndayishimiye, to “end the practice of enforced disappearances immediately”.
“The Burundian government’s failure to account for him is an affront to the principles of truth, justice and accountability. Families have the right to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones,” the statement said.
Call for ICPPED
Meanwhile, Amnesty also urged the government of President Ndayishimiye to ratify the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).
So far 63 countries have done so, but Burundi, which has a history of grave human right abuses, has not done so yet.
A 2019 report from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi exposed grievous infractions by the security forces, police and the governing party’s youth league.
The report cited numerous disappearances in the country and said the UN was “deeply concerned about the frequency of such disappearances”.
UN investigators have called on the government to launch investigations into potential mass graves and to exhume and identify the remains of victims.
E A Alanore