The United Nations Human Rights Commission has expressed concerns about a video that captures members of a pro-government youth militia in Burundi singing about raping their adversaries.
“Impregnate those opponents, so that they give birth to Imbonerakure,” says the troubling verse in the song.
The Imbonerakure are the youth wing of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s party (“youth” defined as “any party member age 35 or younger,” according to an NPR report on the group). Their name means “those who see far” in the Kurundi language.
The opposition in Burundi has accused the Imbonerakure of militant violence, including dressing up as policemen to attack opposition demonstrators. Some of this violence has resulted in fatalities, as the militia has been known to use machetes and grenades in its attacks. The military has allegedly provided guns and explosives to the Imbonerakure. In rural Burundi, they are said to have more power than the military or police.
Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD party denies the most damaging allegations against the Imbonerakure or distances itself from the youth militia when it becomes politically inconvenient. The latter course seems to have been pursued here. At first, the CNDD-FDD claimed the video showing the “rape song” was a fake filmed outside Burundi, but later it admitted the footage was authentic and said the song “does not conform to the morals or ideology” of the party.
A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights told Voice of America the Imbonerakure are waging a campaign of terror across Burundi that includes “horrendous” acts of torture such as “people being burnt with hot knives, acid being poured over parts of their body, teeth broken with rifle butts,” and “attacks on sexual organs.”
“These grotesque rape chants by the young men of the Imbonerakure across several provinces across Burundi are deeply alarming – particularly because they confirm what we have been hearing from those who have fled Burundi about a campaign of fear and terror by this organized militia,” said spokesman Rupert Colville.
He added that his office has received reports of at least eight large rallies that included songs and slogans promoting rape and violence, and that senior government officials were present at some of them.
Burundi has been teetering on the edge of civil war for years. The previous civil war ended in 2005, after killing some 300,000 people, with a peace plan that limited Nkurunziza to two terms in office. However, he ran for and won a third term, claiming that his first term in office was ordained by parliament instead of the popular vote, so it should not count against the constitutional term limit. Burundi’s constitutional court accepted this argument, but many citizens did not.
His government has become increasingly repressive, especially after a failed coup attempt against him in 2015. Burundi is one of those nations where “insulting the president” is a crime punishable by jail time, even if the perpetrators are high school children.
Much of the political violence in Burundi has an ethnic component, as the CNDD-FDD is a party of the Hutu tribe, while many victims of oppression are members of the Tutsi minority, the same tribal conflict that turned Rwanda into a bloodbath.
The U.N. High Commission for Human Rights chronicles numerous complaints of violence and the incitement to violence by CNDD-FDD officials and the Imbonerakure militia, noting that “coded language” about raping adversaries or making them disappear is all too easy to decode in a nation only a few years removed from bloody civil war.
“The Government needs to stop pretending that the Imbonerakure are nothing but a community development group,” said High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. “Such blatant and brazen hate speech and incitement to violence must not be tolerated, nor encouraged. In a region which has suffered so many massive outbreaks of violence and atrocities, this type of organized incitement rings very loud alarm bells.”