Rape as a Tool of Torture in Burundi


Following the publication of the report submitted by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi by the Human Rights Council on the 4th of September 2017, a great amount of human rights violations has been brought to light. Even so, though most of the violations mentioned in the report are regularly brought up, the use of rape and other sexual assaults on men as an instrument of torture came across as an atrocity that is too rarely addressed.


The Facts:


Since April 2015, the period in which President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was submitting his candidacy for a third mandate, Burundi is witnessing a political crisis that does not seem to be abating. The Burundian population is enduring a grave wave of repression, mainly committed by “the Burundian security forces and the Imbonerakure”[1] (members of the youth movement of the party in power). According to the president of the CoI on Burundi, these assaults are mainly directed against young men being perceived as in opposition to the Burundian government.[2]


The Commission has evidenced in its report many cases of sexual violence and torture against men in detention. Testimonies given have revealed very harsh and brutal violence with notably rapes, genital mutilations, cases of forced nudity, and injection of unknown substances into genitals, often causing serious harm.


It has been explained by the victims that these torturous acts were committed with the aim of obtaining forced confessions regarding their participation in the anti-Nkurunziza protests, their affiliation to opposition groups, the localization of arms cache, information dealing with the functioning of these armed groups, or also, the denouncing of members of opposition groups[3]. The perpetrators of these assaults also justified their actions by the desire to punish the persons affiliated to opposition groups, aiming to achieve this through humiliation of the men and violation of their masculinity.


Although these two reasons directly expressed by the perpetrators of the sexual crimes are emphasized in the victims’ testimonies, the CoI concludes that more generally, these assaults were perpetrated with the aim to “decree a form of domination[4].


It is clear that the intent of sexual assaults on Burundian men depicts a political phenomena targeting the opposition and punishing even nonpartisan persons simply for being in opposition to the government. Indeed, as highlighted by Cécile Poully, there is a true “will to break a possible opposition”[5].



An Evil Kept Quiet:


Sexual violence and rapes as war tools are unfortunately common practice, especially towards women. However, it is also true that more and more men find themselves victims of these crimes. Sadly, these are victims that are heard or helped too rarely. Indeed, due to fear of stigmatization, reprisal, or rejection from the community, the latter hardly admit the specifics of the crime they have suffered. Consequently, it is then difficult to establish the reach of this phenomena, which can in part explain why the latter is too often neglected and not addressed.


As the Burundian judicial system makes the process of lodging a complaint in cases of rapes difficult, perpetrators of rape are not only protected by their status of law enforcement representative or member of the party, but also because the judicial system allows the impunity of their actions. Consequently, victims feel obliged to remain silent so as to avoid other threats or reprisals.


Specifically for the case of men being rape victims, the fact that homosexuality is penalized by the Burundian legislative system represents another obstacle for the latter to admit to the crime they endured.


The gender perspective on this topic is quite prominent. Indeed, Burundi being a patriarchal society, the idea that sexual assaults can also target men is completely refuted, and men having suffered these abuses are negatively stigmatized as having “lost” their masculinity, power and domination – all traits emanating from or associated with their gender.


Due to all these reasons, very few men admit to having been victims. However, the consequences of this silence are manifold for victims of these assaults. Generally, the psychological and physical health if victims are damaged. Indeed, by not speaking up, victims do not receive the care they need, which can worsen the consequences of the violence that they have suffered. Because of shame or fear of stigmatization, men do not admit to medical professionals what happened to them, and this can have immediate outcomes as well as longterm ones, such as “erectile dysfunction, urinary issues or chronic pains around the genitals”[6]. Psychologically, male victims of sexual aggressions also admitted “feeling a lack of sexual desire, a feeling of seclusion, or to be subject to post-traumatic stress”[7].




Sexual torture and assaults of the nature denounced above represent grave human rights violations, such as the right to the security of the person, the right to be protected against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, without taking into account the physical and psychological destruction of the victim.


It is important to stress the fact that, in addition to women, sexual assaults and crimes are also perpetrated on Burundian men in detention, with the aim to punish them for being members of groups opposed to the government.


Given that rape is often committed to assert certain domination, it is clear that the rape of men during periods of detention, based on the fact that the detained person is opposed to the government, is a means to prove the domination of the ruling party over Burundian citizens.


Burundi being a country with a culture or patriarchal tendencies, very few masculine victims of sexual assaults express or denounce what they endured, due to fear of stigmatization, rejection from their community or reprisals. This complicates a lot the gathering of data on the issue, and consequently the implementation of solutions to fight this problem. Data are even hard to get since Burundi does not let many NGOs operate on its territory and refused over and over again the intervention of the UN and other international organizations in the country.


It becomes therefore important to open the dialogue on men as victims of sexual assaults to eventually manage to de-stigmatize their situation, and to be able to develop appropriate responses to these crimes. To start, Contra Nocendi International would like to call out to the authorities responsible for care in detention centers and encourage them to be more diligent in assessing the detainees’ physical and psychological conditions during their medical care and follow-up. This could allow detainees’ victims of sexual crimes to be treated, all the while giving them the choice to open up if they so wish. This call out is also directed at NGOs and other international organizations involved in the refugee camps in neighboring countries, where a significant number of Burundians, already victims of such crimes flee, to seek care and protection.


This article is by Maylis David, Advocacy Associate, Contra Nocendi



[1] Paragraph 5 of the 33/24 resolution

[2] Oral presentation by M. Fatsah Ougergouz, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi during the interactive dialogue on Burundi of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council

[3] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017 (Detailed final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council, 36th session, 11-19 September 2017)

[4] Id.

[5] [5] http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20160117-burundi-le-viol-une-arme-service-repression

[6] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017 (Detailed final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council, 36th session, 11-19 September 2017)

[7] Id.


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