Former Burundian Prime Minister Alain Guillaume Bunyoni has been arrested by authorities, seven months after his dismissal in a political purge. Bunyoni served as prime minister from June 2020 to September 2022, when he was sacked by the president, who accused unnamed individuals of plotting a coup against him. The country’s justice ministry confirmed Bunyoni’s arrest in a statement signed by General Prosecutor Sylvestre Nyandwi. The statement did not specify the charges against him or his location. Bunyoni was arrested in the capital, Bujumbura, on Friday, according to Nyandwi.
Bunyoni was considered the second-in-command of the ruling party and was a close ally of former President Pierre Nkurunziza, who died in office in 2020. He has been under US sanctions since 2015 for his alleged role in human rights violations during violence that erupted after Nkurunziza sought a third term in office. Bunyoni served as security minister during the unrest in 2015. Despite the relative opening up of the country since President Evariste Ndayishimiye took office in 2020, Burundi’s human rights situation has been described as “disastrous” by a United Nations rights committee.
During Nkurunziza’s rule, Burundi was largely isolated, and the country remains one of the world’s poorest with a population of 12 million. In 2015, Nkurunziza launched a crackdown on political opponents amid turmoil after he sought a third term in office, violating a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006. The crackdown resulted in around 300,000 deaths over 13 years of ethnic fighting, with around 400,000 people fleeing abroad amid reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, killings and enforced disappearances. As a result of these developments, the country became an international pariah, with donors cutting aid and the US and European Union imposing sanctions on some officials.
Interior Minister Martin Niteretse had announced that authorities were searching for Bunyoni during a press conference on Wednesday. A high-ranking security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP news agency that the former prime minister was “arrested very quickly by the national intelligence service”. The country’s human rights commission tweeted that representatives had visited Bunyoni in detention and confirmed that he had not faced any abuse.
The charges against Bunyoni have not been specified, but his arrest is likely to be linked to his alleged role in human rights abuses during the unrest in 2015. The arrest comes amid concerns about the human rights situation in Burundi, with the UN warning of a “climate of fear” in the country. The international community will be watching closely to see how the situation develops, particularly given the country’s history of political violence and human rights abuses.