UN experts warn of "genocidal rhetoric" in Burundi

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A United Nations watchdog on Friday urged Burundi to immediately address a long line of abuses, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings and widespread torture and sexual abuse, with disturbing ethnic undertones.

The UN Committee Against Torture also voiced alarm at the use of "genocidal rhetoric" in national political discourse, echoing concerns that ethnically-motivated verbal attacks could spiral into something far more serious.

"We have reports and information that indicates that the torture and the murder is politically motivated, and whether it also has an ethnic component, there are certain indications for that," committee chair Jens Modvig told reporters.

He pointed out that the UN's top expert on the prevention of genocide had warned that "we are in the early stage of something that could develop towards genocide."

Adama Dieng warned late last year that the government and the opposition were manipulating ethnic tensions in Burundi, pitting Hutus and Tutsis against each other and using rhetoric resembling that seen ahead of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

The 10-member committee, which periodically reviews the records of the 156 countries that have ratified an international convention against torture, issued its report after a special review of the situation in the tiny landlocked nation late last month.

The session was called after Burundi failed to provide requested follow-up information after its previous review in 2014, and to address the situation since the country descended into political turmoil last year.

- 'Clear reprisal' -

Burundi has been in chaos since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans in April 2015 to run for a third term, which he went on to win.

More than 500 people have since died, and at least 270,000 people have fled the country.

UN investigators say that in the 12-month period after the crisis began, at least 348 people were victims of extrajudicial killings and 651 incidents of torture were recorded.

Committee member Sebastien Touze said the military, intelligence services and related militias were committing "extremely serious" abuses "with total impunity".

A Burundian delegation headed by Justice Minister Aimee Laurentine Kanyana had participated on the first day of the review, but it was upset by a report filed by non-governmental groups and, in an unprecedented move, refused to return on the second day.

On the same day the Burundian delegation refused to return to the review, a Burundian prosecutor asked that four lawyers who contributed to the disputed report be disbarred, in a move the committee members concluded was a "clear reprisal".

"The committee urgently calls on (Burundi) to protect members of civil society who have cooperated with the committee within the context of the special review of Burundi, and to stop all acts of reprisal," the experts said in their report.

It also demanded that the country submit a report by October 12 over how it intended to act on its long line of recommendations for changes.

Among other things, the report demanded that Burundi ensure that all allegations of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture are investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice.