UN human rights office warns Burundi crisis ‘spiralling out of control’

People demonstrate in Bujumbura against a decision by Burundi’s ruling party to nominate President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term (April 2015). Photo: Desire Nimubona/IRIN

14 August 2015 – The situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate amid ongoing killings, arrests and detentions in the latest post-election turmoil to afflict the country, the United Nations human rights office has reported.

“We urge all sides to resume dialogue before the situation spirals completely out of control,” warned Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as she addressed reporters today in Geneva.

“Burundi has been slipping closer to the edge with every high-profile attack and killing, and we call on leaders on all sides to take concrete steps to renounce the use of violence and to resolve differences peacefully,” she continued. “Where violations and abuses have occurred, there need to be prompt investigations with a view to bringing the perpetrators to account and justice for victims.”

According to the UN, civil unrest erupted on 26 April in Bujumbura, Burundi's capital, after the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party elected President Pierre Nkurunziza on 25 April as its candidate for the then-scheduled 26 June presidential election.

Mr. Nkurunziza has been in office for two terms since 2005, and a broad array of actors warned that an attempt to seek a third term was unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi that ended a decade of civil war in the country.

The OHCHR spokesperson observed that since the outbreak of violence in April, at least 96 people have been killed, mostly among opposition supporters, while some 600 people have been arrested and detained. Among those detained, there have been at least 60 cases of torture and many more cases of ill-treatment, she added.

“So far, no trials have taken place in relation to the violence, killings, torture and ill-treatment since April, although the authorities have repeatedly indicated that investigations are under way and that some police elements have been arrested,” Ms. Shamdasani said, noting that the actual numbers of persons killed, detained or tortured may be much higher than initially thought.

“We understand that in very few cases have investigations actually been initiated. Continuing impunity in Burundi can only fuel cycles of violence.”

Along with the increasing human rights violations, the mounting violence across Burundi has also provoked a widespread humanitarian crisis as refugees have spilled across the country's borders and fanned throughout the region.

Indeed, the most recent data state that over 200,000 people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries with 85,200 Burundian refugees in Tanzania, 71,600 in Rwanda, 28,300 in Uganda, 14,322 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 7,000 in Kenya, and 3,000 in southern Africa.

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