The EU on said it would restart giving financial aid to Burundi following a similar step last year by the US, drawing an angry response from government critics.
“Today’s decision to lift restrictions is a result of the peaceful political process that started with the general elections of May 2020 and which has opened a new window of hope for the population of Burundi,” and EU statement said.
In 2016, the European Union, at the time Burundi’s biggest aid donor, suspended all direct funding to the government for ignoring human rights and failing to stop a wave of deadly violence.
Burundi was in turmoil at the time when then-president Pierre Nkurunziza won a third term which the opposition said was illegal.
The EU decision on Tuesday followed a decision by the United States in November that credited elections, a fall in violence, and reforms by President Evariste Ndayishimiye.
In its statement, the EU acknowledged that “persisting challenges remain in the areas of human rights, good governance, reconciliation and the rule of law”.
Burundi’s Foreign Minister Albert Shingiro thanked the EU and its 27 member states for lifting the curbs. It was “an ingredient for rebuilding our bilateral ties”, he said on Twitter. But NGOs condemned the decision, saying nothing had changed to justify the move.
“The United States and the EU may hope that doing so will encourage reform, but it will more likely embolden human rights abusers who already operate with near-total impunity,” said Mausi Segun, director at Human Rights Watch for Africa.
The US decision came just two months after a UN Commission of Inquiry said the human rights situation in the central African country had “deteriorated” since Ndayishimiye took power in June 2020.
“Members of opposition parties… are still regularly targeted by abusive restrictions and are subject to grave human rights violations such as disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions and torture,” the UN said in September.
According to the EU Observer, a news website in Brussels, the EU used to be the biggest aid donor to the former Belgian colony, paying out some 60 million euros a year.