Tanzanian security services tortured Burundi refugees: HRW

Burundian refugees

Burundian refugees in Nduta refugee camp in the Kigoma region of northwest Tanzania. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

Security forces in Tanzania have arbitrarily detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared at least 18 Burundian refugees since late last year, Human Rights Watch said in a new report.

Police officers this year snatched seven refugees and asylum seekers living in camps in the western Kigoma region, near the border with Burundi, the New York-based watchdog said Monday.

The whereabouts and fate of the detainees are unknown and "additional Burundians may have suffered similar abuse," the report said.

"Between October 2019 and August 2020, Tanzanian police and intelligence services forcibly disappeared, tortured, and arbitrarily detained at least 11 Burundians for up to several weeks in abysmal conditions in a police station in Kibondo, Kigoma region." 

Three of the captives were freed inside Tanzania, while in August the authorities forcibly repatriated the eight others to Burundi, where they were detained without charge, HRW said.

The "enforced disappearances of Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Tanzania are heinous crimes, not least because of the anguish and suffering caused to family members, many of whom fled similar abuses in Burundi," said Mausi Segun, Africa director at HRW.

In testimony gathered by the NGO, nine of the detainees at Kibondo were reportedly tortured before they were returned to the Mtendeli and Nduta camps in Kigoma.

"The Burundians said that Tanzanian police detained them in rooms with no electricity or windows, took them to a separate building on the police station grounds, and hanged them from the ceiling by their handcuffs," the report said.

"Some said that police and intelligence agents gave them electric shocks, rubbed their faces and genitals with chili, and beat and whipped them."

In certain cases, police and intelligence officers told refugees that they had been given information about them by Burundian authorities, "suggesting collusion between agents from the two countries," the report said.

In 2015 more than 400,000 people fled their homes in Burundi for neighbouring countries during a violent crisis caused by then president Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a contested third term.

Dozens of people died in a brutal crackdown on protest, but the Constitutional Court ruled that the third term was legal. Nkurunziza won an election boycotted by the opposition and remained in power until his death in June this year.

At the end of October, Tanzania was still host to more than 150,000 refugees in three camps, but almost 100,000 people have returned to Burundi since September 2017.