Five soldiers and three policemen suspected of assassinating General Adolphe Nshimirimana, the former intelligence chief who was reportedly very close to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, appeared for the third time on Tuesday in the High Court’s criminal division.
The court is sitting in Gitega province, in the centre of Burundi.
State prosecutor Laurent Niyukuri accused the eight of having “planned and carried out the assassination of the general” on August 2, 2015.
“They jointly created the plan of killing the general and executed it,” he said, adding that the alleged assassins had met to prepare the assassination in Bujumbura and had met again in the city on October 16, 2015 to assess how the assassination had been executed.
The suspects all denied the charges and their lawyers asked the prosecution to clearly show evidence implicating their clients, including the dates of all the meetings.
However, Niyukuri could not give the dates of the two first meetings, nor their content.
Some of the suspects told judges that on the day the general was assassinated, they were on leave in the countryside, attending church or working at their posts.
Nshimirimana, a senior presidential advisor for internal security and close ally of Nkurunziza, was killed in a rocket attack on his car carried out by a heavily armed commando in Bujumbura.
The prosecutor demanded life imprisonment for the eight. After hearing evidence, the judges adjourned the case for further deliberations. The verdict will be announced in one month.
Security in the country has continually deteriorated since Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term in April last year, which he successfully did, in July.
The relationship between the United Nations and Burundi has also deteriorated since a team of UN experts issued a report two weeks ago, accusing Burundian authorities of numerous gross human rights violations.
On Monday, the government of Burundi declared the three UN experts “persona non grata” in Burundi.
Foreign minister Alain Aimé Nyamitwe sent a note to all embassies this week, telling them that the experts, Sahli Maya, South Africa’s Christoph Heyns and Pablo de Grief, who wrote the report on human rights, could not return to Burundi.
The report had accused Burundi intelligence agents and the security forces of having killed, tortured and abducted people opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term.
On Friday 30 September, the three UN experts had presented the report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The council then adopted a resolution, asking the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently dispatch a mission to Burundi to investigate violations and abuses of human rights to prevent recurrences.
The Burundi government claims this was a strategy by the UN and European Union (EU) to support the opposition and topple the regime of Bujumbura.
The EU played an important role in ensuring the resolution was adopted. Nineteen countries voted in favour, seven – most prominently Russia and China – voted against, whereas the vast majority of African countries, including South Africa, abstained.
On Tuesday the Burundi government announced it was suspending cooperation with the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi.
The EU had earlier announced that it was deeply concerned by the deterioration of human rights in the country and the lack of freedom of speech.
A fact-finding EU mission visited Burundi last week and concluded that the Burundi government had not made enough progress in normalising the situation for the EU to resume its suspended development aid.
Koen Varvaeke, the EU’s special envoy for the Great Lakes region, who headed the mission, said in particular that the EU wanted the Burundi authorities to engage in an inclusive dialogue with the opposition.
Meanwhile, the Burundi authorities announced on Tuesday that three people, including a school director, had been killed and two others badly injured in a rocket-propelled grenade and automatic rifle attack on Monday evening in Bugurama commune, Rumonge province, in the south of the country.