Senior UN official warns Burundi's tensions could fuel violence throughout Great Lakes region

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

22 March 2016 – A climate for inclusive dialogue is urgently required to eradicate the polarization and fragmentation of Burundian society, resulting from the increasing poverty and ongoing political crisis, a senior United Nations human rights official today urged.

“The situation in Burundi is of great concern,” Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonoviæ, told the Human Rights Council in its interactive dialogue on Burundi. He warned the human rights violations occurring in Burundi could affect not only the future of the country's population, but also the wider Great Lakes region.

“Continued political tensions in the country threaten to escalate into a spiral of violence. The humanitarian, economic and social toll on the population is equally worrisome,” he added.

Mr. Šimonoviæ noted that since the crisis began in April 2015, at least 474 people have been killed, and there are 36 cases of alleged enforced disappearances.

In addition, at least some 5,000 people have been detained – of whom at least 1,834 remain in detention, some reportedly tortured and ill-treated.

The UN official noted some effort by the Government to re-establish the rule of law, with 41 out of 125 political detainees suggested for release being provisionally freed last week.

“I strongly urge the Government to release all others included in our list, as well as all others detained for political reasons only,” Mr. Šimonoviæ underscored.

He noted also the need to ensure freedom of expression, and to allow media, civil society and opposition to operate freely.

“There must be an end to disappearances, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial killings and torture, and clear and public moves to hold to account perpetrators – including agents of the State and members of armed groups,” said Mr. Šimonoviæ.

He singled out in particular the case of Marie Claudette Kwizera, and accountant of the NGO, Ligue Iteka, who was reportedly taken away on 10 December 2015 by unidentified perpetrators, and whose whereabouts continue to be unknown.

Earlier this month, a team of independent experts completed its first mission to Burundi, mandated by the Council to probe potential human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and sexual and gender-based violence against civilians.

In today's briefing, Mr. Šimonoviæ urged Burundi's Government to authorize and similarly cooperate with support staff who the UN seeks to deploy to Burundi from April through July, to conduct in-depth investigation and report to the Council.

He noted also the importance of economic and social rights of the Burundian population, in addition to protecting civil and political rights.

Also today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, Minister of External Relations and International Cooperation of the Republic of Burundi.

According to a note from his Spokesperson on the meeting, Mr. Ban encouraged the Government to redouble its efforts to find a political solution to the current crisis through an inclusive dialogue, to protect all civilians and ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations are held to account.


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