Senior UN official alarmed at upsurge in human rights abuses in Burundi

Burning barricades in Bujumbura, as turmoil erupted in Burundi. Photo: Desire Nimubona/IRIN

28 September 2015 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today reported an alarming upsurge in arrests, detention and killings in Burundi since the beginning of September, and urged the country’s authorities to fight against impunity.

“Almost every day, dead bodies are found lying on the streets of some of Bujumbura’s neighbourhoods,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a news release. “In many cases, the victims appear to have been killed by a bullet fired at close range. The bodies sometimes show signs of torture and are typically found with their hands tied behind their backs.”

Reports received by the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR) suggest that many of these people had been arrested by the police or by the National Intelligence Agency (SNR) prior to their deaths.

“This succession of unexplained killings, and the widespread perception that they may be linked to State institutions, is instilling a deep sense of fear within the population, especially in neighbourhoods known to be supportive of the opposition,” said the High Commissioner.

Since April 2015, OHCHR has registered 134 killings and hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Some of these cases stay in pre-trial detention over the maximum duration allowed under international law.

The High Commissioner added that there has been an intensification of search operations allegedly aimed at seizing illegal weapons in specific neighbourhoods of the capital, Bujumbura. “Young adults seem to be particularly targeted, with many of them alleging they were accused by the authorities of intending to join rebel groups based in neighbouring countries,” he said.

OHCHR has documented more than 90 cases of torture since April 2015. It has also been receiving many allegations of torture carried out by police or the SNR, with the reported aim of forcing victims to confess to participation in an armed rebellion.

“Because crimes as serious as extrajudicial executions and torture are going unpunished, more people are looking to take the law into their own hands. There is an increasing risk that spiralling tit-for-tat violence will plunge the country back into its bloody past,” the High Commissioner warned.

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