On April 30, 2015, Burundi’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research announced the immediate closure of student residence halls at the Université du Burundi, leaving at least several hundred students without a place to live on campus. The decision came after four days of widespread protests – a number of which were led by students – following Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would be seeking a third term. The decision to close the residence halls was justified on security grounds; however as of this report, officials had not provided any additional explanation as to the particular security risks at issue.
While government officials indicated that academic activities would continue uninterrupted, reports reveal that campus buildings were found vacant and locked following the evacuation of residence halls, suggesting an outright closure of the university. Hours after the residence halls were evacuated, hundreds of displaced students reportedly sought shelter camped out at the nearby US Embassy. On June 24, in a meeting with local higher education leaders, the Minister called on students and teaching staff to return to campus for classes. One day later, the students camped outside the US Embassy were allegedly threatened and forced to disperse by police.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the possible closure of a university in response to, or a means of preventing, the exercise of the rights to free expression and association. While state authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, ensuring public safety and protecting property, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, respect internationally recognized standards of free expression and association, and preserve the ability of higher education communities to serve their educational, research and social functions.