Exiled Burundian judge Sylvere Nimpagaritse speaks out

Thursday May 07 2015

Sylvere Nimpagaritse, the vice president of the Burundi constitutional court, who fled to Rwanda on May 4, 2015 citing threats against his life. He said he and other judges had come under pressure to rule that the President Nkurunziza is free to run again. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

The exiled vice president of the Burundian constitutional court, Sylvère Nimpagaritse, has finally spoken out about the circumstances under which he fled the country.

Nimpagaritse, who fled into exile in Rwanda on Monday, said he and other judges of the constitutional court came under increased threats to legitimise President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plans to seek another term in office.

“It was the last option I was remaining with because if we did not give the third term a green light, we were going to be in trouble,” Mr Nimpagaritse told a select group of journalists in Kigali, adding that he had to ram into a border post after Imbonerakure tried to stop him.

The Burundian judge, who is said to be seeking asylum in Rwanda or another third country, said he felt his life was threatened because the constitutional court had been ordered to make a ruling in favour of  Nkurunziza.

“We had convened earlier on April 30, as judges of the constitutional court to look at the provisions of the law, the Constitution and the Arusha Peace Accord to ascertain if indeed Nkurunziza was eligible to stand for another term in office and we found that he did not qualify for one.

“We went home with a plan of returning the next day to sign the decision but that same evening all judges started receiving threatening phone calls. On May 1, feeling threatened, the judges decided to sign a document clearing Nkurunziza to seek another term,” he said.


It is at this point, he says, as the vice president of the court, he felt the conviction not to buckle under pressure from the ruling party and Nkurunziza’s henchmen and planned his escape.

When he arrived on the southwestern border post of Rusizi, Nimpagaritse says he was stopped by Burundian policemen manning the border but upon realising that he was a high-ranking government official, they allowed him to exit, before Imbonerakure, the militias linked to the ruling party, ordered them not to let him out.

“Imbonerakure are existent and policemen operate on their orders. I saw them with my own eyes, warning a policeman that if he lets me out, they will cut his head off. I took a decision to ram into the roadblock, that is how I ended up in Rwanda,” the judge said.

Burundi problem no longer ethnic

Nimpagaritse, a Tutsi, said that the problems in the East African country are no longer ethnic in nature because both Hutus and Tutsi’s have stood up against Nkurunziza’s attempts to rule the country for the third time.

“All my fellow judges in the constitutional court were Hutu and were not in support of Nkurunziza. Even if you look through the protesters, majority of them, including the ones leading the protests, are all Hutu.

“Even Nkurunziza’s former allies, including his former spokesperson, who are all part of the demonstrations, are Hutu. So this really has nothing to do with ethnicity. Instead, people allied to the president are the ones trying to make the problem look ethnic just to cover up what is going on,” he said.

Shortly after Nimpagaritse’s departure, the constitutional court gave Nkurunziza the all-clear to contest in the June 26 elections. However the judge says that the incumbent, who vowed to contest in the polls, should no longer be seen as the country’s legitimate leader.

In his address to the nation on Wednesday, Nkurunziza called for calm and urged the protesters to leave the streets to allow the country to prepare for the June elections peacefully. He added that it will be his last term in office if re-elected.

Violent protests continued on Thursday in the capital Bujumbura and its suburbs, with at least four people killed and scores injured in run-ins between police and the demonstrators.