International Day against Police Brutality: street vendors in dire straits

It’s 11:00 a.m. on 15 March in Bujumbura City Center. It’s raining. Street sellers are performing their daily activities with difficulty. Saleswomen with basket full of goods on their heads are selling their products to all passerby. In front of “Village Market”, two saleswomen are selling their orange and are bargaining with customers.

Saleswomen in Bujumbura city center say they work in difficult conditions.

Saleswomen in Bujumbura city center say they work in difficult conditions.

Suddenly, four police officers coming from nowhere surround them. “Pickup your goods! You know the destination”, says one of them. The two saleswomen carry their baskets on their heads and follow them. At a 100- meter distance, a long discussion is held between them. After twenty minutes, the saleswomen return. “We didn’t find sufficient money to give them. We told them we didn’t get any customer because it is raining”, one salesman says.

He, however, says they must give the money at the end of the day, otherwise, they would endure the police brutality. “If we do not cooperate, we will be persecuted,” she says.

Those sellers say there is a vehicle moving around in charge of taking street sellers to the police station. They say they usually wear their cardigans and badges for identification but they don’t wear them since few months. “We ignore the motives”, says a salesman of spare parts. Sellers say the police officers often take them to the police detention center known as “BSR”.

Street sellers urge the police officers not to use brutality when they arrest them. “It would be better to run a sensitization campaign on the consequences of selling goods in streets instead of persecuting us,” says one saleswomen. Those sellers also say accidents occur when they try to escape the police officers.

Pierre Nkurikiye, Spokesperson for Burundi Police says police officers never use brutality. He says the Burundi police have never received any instruction from the high officials to disturb the peaceful population. “It is true that some police may make some mistakes but they are individually punished according to the law,” he says. Nkurikiye says the police officers’ main duties are to restore peace and security. “We have never used force in any situation”, he says.