Biden Orders End of Burundi Sanctions Program

A view of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. (Source: Adobe Stock)

By Samuel Rubenfeld

Thursday, November 18, 2021

President Joe Biden on Thursday issued an executive order ending the U.S. sanctions program on Burundi, citing improvements made since a new president took power last year.

The situation in Burundi “has been significantly altered by events of the past year,” including the transfer of power following the 2020 election of Evariste Ndayishimiye, a decrease in violence and his “pursuit of reform across multiple sectors,” the executive order said. 

“The United States recognizes the positive reforms pursued by President Ndayishimiye, while continuing to press the government of Burundi to improve the human rights situation in the country and hold accountable those responsible for violations and abuses,” said Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, in a statement.

As a result of the executive order, the designations made under the Burundi sanctions program are lifted, their assets are no longer blocked and the relevant federal regulations will be removed at a later date, the Treasury said. The move revokes a November 2015 executive order from then-President Barack Obama that had put the sanctions program into place. 

Four individuals were named in the annex of the 2015 order. Others were sanctioned in December of that year and in June 2016.  

The new U.S. executive order, terminating the Burundi sanctions program, was consistent with the findings of the Treasury’s recent review, and it shows how the U.S. is committed to easing or removing the measures in certain circumstances, Adeyemo said.  

Ndayishimiye won the Burundian presidential election in May 2020 with more than two-thirds of the vote, becoming the country’s first new leader since 2005. He embarked on an effort to bring the country out of isolation, according to media reports. In September, Ndayishimiye spoke of Burundi’s progress at the United Nations General Assembly, saying that, in addition to the pandemic, poverty is the “only enemy” that remains a threat to the country’s people. 

More than 60,000 refugees voluntarily returned to Burundi this year, though more than 270,000 people remain in exile, according to a statement last month from the U.N. Refugee Agency. 

The International Monetary Fund approved USD 76 million in financial assistance to help the country to address the pandemic. Burundi, one of the last African countries to begin inoculating its people, received 500,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine in mid-October, according to a media report.

Despite the progress cited by the U.S. and by Ndayishimiye, human rights abuses continue, according to separate reports by a U.N. commission of inquiry. Following the report, the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed a new rapporteur to monitor the situation in the country.

“A robust civil society is critical to building a peaceful, inclusive future for the benefit of the Burundian people and is a key partner in pressing for continued reforms,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “The United States, along with partners and allies, will continue to press the government of Burundi to improve the human rights situation in the country and use other appropriate tools to do so. This includes work with the new U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burundi.”  

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