Burundi's government has repeatedly tried to focus international attention on 2020 elections and draw a line under the fallout  from 2015’s election crisis , which led to insecurity and regionally-mediated dialogue with opponents in exile. In May, controversial constitutional changes were unsurprisingly approved by referendum , but then President Nkurunziza surprisingly  announced he would not run again.
While positions diverge, international  and Burundian criticism against political repression  and economic hardship  continue as government officials in Burundi's capital Bujumbura tighten control over non-governmental agencies.
Human rights inquiries
At the 39th United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council session in September 2018, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (UNCOI) renewed its mandate  for another year, as many  rights  organizations  and opponents  called for. It was established in 2016 to investigate human rights abuses occurring since 2015.
Bujumbura threatened  to leave the council, but the motion  was adopted  with 23 approvals, 17 abstentions, and 7 against. Most African states abstained . Burundi’s UN ambassador said European states tried to “impose  their will”.
A UNCOI 2017 report  said it had “reasonable grounds to believe” crimes against humanity were committed in Burundi. UNCOI president Doudou Diène warned  the constitutional referendum had exacerbated problems , and in June  it still expressed concern  over repression, citing opposition activist Germain Rukuki’s heavy prison sentence . It also said  President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would not run again should not obscure the situation.
A UNCOI  2018 report  found that human rights violations in Burundi had continued with impunity, including torture and forced disappearances by security services and Imbonerakure,  the increasingly powerful ruling party's youth-wing. It lamented  the “shrinking democratic space” and “the growing impoverishment of the population”, and directly criticized the president for inciting violence.
The government refused  UNCOI access to Burundi, so UNCOI investigators relied on hundreds of in-person and phone interviews with refugees.
The government  and its supporters  consistently  reject  these reports, claiming they are false and serve as plots against national sovereignty. One government spokesperson said  one report was “void” and based on a “hidden agenda”, and officials boycotted  its presentation — even demanding reparations. The UNCOI investigators were declared ‘personae  non gratae’.
“Le #Burundi  a reçu et scruté de fond en comble le rapport que vient de présenter la #COIBurundi  et voudrait le rejeter publiquement parce qu’il s’agit d’un rapport mensonger, taillé sur mesure et politiquement motivé” – Amb. @tabu_renovat  au #HRC39  pic.twitter.com/WAnBCPtfEN 
— Amb. Willy Nyamitwe (@willynyamitwe) 17 septembre 2018 
“Burundi received and deeply scrutinized the report just presented by the UNCOI Burundi, and would like to publicly reject it because it is a dishonest report, tailor-made and politically motivated“– Ambassador at HRC39
UN Envoy  Michel Kafondo, in a mediating capacity, took a more positive tone  than UNCOI, which officials argued showed UNCOI did not understand the full picture. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court investigation  into violence and impunity , opened in 2017, continues . Bujumbura also refused to cooperate and  left the court in an unprecedented  move.
After the 2015 crisis, restriction  on government critics  intensified, leading to harassment of opponents, media  and civil society, and closures  of several independent radios. Journalist Jean Bigirimana was forcibly disappeared, and activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa  went into exile after being shot. Others, such as activist Nestor  Nibitanga , faced general security-related legal charges.
In 2016, various Burundian rights organizations were delisted , and recently international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came under pressure.
In September, the National Security Council, presided by Nkurunziza, announced  all NGOs – except  in hospitals and schools – were suspended  for three months from October 1, and mining  companies for one month.
This is to ensure compliance with 2017 regulations including ethnic and gender quotas, originally from post-war peace arrangements intended for security and political institutions. A government spokesperson  even accused some NGOs of promoting homosexuality and political conflict.
Additionally, the government has forced NGOs to comply with new taxes and financial requirements  for which NGOs were not prepared, creating a standoff. One possible motivation for the new requirements is to generate funds to alleviate struggling government finances.
In a meeting  on October 2, officials announced that NGOs which complied could  restart as soon as four official documents were provided. Those  that did not comply within three months would be delisted. Several International Rescue Committee employees  were reportedly later arrested temporarily on accusations of continuing work.
NGOs protested , and Amnesty International  warned the abrupt halt to activities would “throw vital services into disarray”. Iwacu newspaper later reported  that services helping refugees return to Burundi had stopped.
Bloggers Landry Burundi and Patrick Nimpagaritse of Yaga Blog lamented the NGO restrictions as “a decision that penalizes everybody”, citing  already high  poverty rates and consequences  ranging  from reduced fertilizer supplies to energy.
UNCOI and others continue to report on human rights abuses and the government continues to contest them. With international disagreement or perhaps disinterest , the political crisis has stagnated to the ruling party’s advantage, consolidating its control over the opposition and international agencies in the country, but without solutions for worsened impunity and economic problems.
International divisions  persist over Burundi's situation. While diplomacy with China  and Russia  is warm, European Union sanctions continue and neighboring governments differ. The United Republic of Tanzania has called  for Burundian refugees to return home while tensions  with Rwanda  worsened , with armed groups making cross-border  raids .
In August, a UN Security Council communique  expressed humanitarian concerns  for “nearly 180,000 internally displaced persons, 3.6 million people in need and nearly 400,000 Burundians seeking refuge in neighboring countries”. It also lamented slow and poorly engaged dialogue and said Burundi needs to make improvements in free expression for credible 2020 elections.
International Crisis Group noted  that economic hardships exacerbate risks of violence, with unemployment, inflation  and goods  shortages compounded by forced  financial  contributions  to elections. Many have fled the political violence since 2015, and while thousands  have returned since 2017, UN High Commissioner for Refugees still registered 319,753  post-2015 refugees in underfunded  camps .
The UN Security Council welcomed the president’s decision not to run again and said  that security had improved, implying a shift in focus from “political crisis” to “credible 2020 elections”, reflecting the government’s consolidation of control.
UN Ambassador Albert Shingiro welcomed this phrasing, but opposition politician Leonce Ngendikumana criticized weak international action and said that inclusive dialogue was necessary to restore peace and assure the dignified return of refugees and liberation of political prisoners.
Iwacu newspaper, for example, reported recurrent discoveries of dead bodies  in some areas of Burundi. Armed crime and  rebel  groups , especially active  in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, also pose deadly risks.
Pierre Celestin Ndikumana of opposition coalition Amizero y’ Abarundi recalled that “absence of war is not synonymous with peace”.