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No sign rights abuses abating under new Burundi govt: UN probe

2 min 18Approximate reading time

UN investigators warned Thursday that the rights situation in Burundi had not improved with the new government, saying that violations remained rampant in the crisis-wracked country.

A new report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi indicated that hopes raised after the end of the late Pierre Nkurunziza's 15-year presidency in the country had been dashed, with abuses continuing since President Evariste Ndayishimiye took office in June.

"So far we see little positive changes since President Ndayishimiye assumed office," commission chief Doudou Diene said in the statement.

"The democratic space remains very narrow, impunity persists, and there is no indication that the level of human rights violations has abated under the new government," he said.

On the contrary, he pointed out that a number of people who were subjected to international sanctions for their alleged responsibility for human rights violations in 2015 "have actually been appointed to senior positions in the Ndayishimiye administration."

Burundi has been in crisis since 2015, when Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in a vote boycotted by most of the opposition.

He remained in power until elections in May this year handed the presidency to his handpicked successor Ndayishimiye.

Nkurunziza suddenly died shortly after the vote.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in violence between April 2015 and May 2017 the UN says was mostly carried out by state security forces.

- 'Crimes against humanity' -

The UN commission, which was created by the UN Human Rights Council four years ago, previously said that the period since 2015 has been marked by likely crimes against humanity committed by state forces, including extrajudicial executions and torture.

In Thursday's report, which covers the period since May 2019, the commission said it "still has reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity... have been committed in Burundi."

"These crimes include murder, imprisonment or other severe forms of deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity and political persecution," it said.

The investigators, who have been denied access to Burundi itself, particularly highlighted a wide range of serious abuses by local authorities and the ruling party's youth league, the Imbonerakure, in the context of the 2020 elections.

"The perpetrators were seeking to deprive the main opposition party of any chance of winning the election," the report said, pointing out that only members and supporters of the main opposition CNL party were the main targets.

Authorities had also worked to muzzle independent observers, including journalists, and imposed tight controls on ordinary people, it said, decrying "systematic attacks deliberately targeting civilians."

- 'Grave concern' -

Investigator Françoise Hampson meanwhile voiced relief that Burundi had avoided wide-scale political violence during the elections, suggesting the keen international focus on the vote called for by the commission had "some sort of restraining effect."

What was worrying however, she told a virtual briefing, was that once the election -- an anticipated trigger of violations -- was over, abuses had continued unabated.

The change in government marked "an opportunity" to start anew, making it "easier to change direction without in any sense losing face," she said, adding though that no change had been detected.

"In recent weeks, there have continued to be killings, there have continued to be arbitrary detention, and there have continued to be disappearances," she said. "That is a matter of very grave concern."

The commissioners, whose mandate is set to expire this month, said it was essential that the UN rights council either allow them to carry on their work or create another mechanism to monitor the situation in Burundi.

"This is absolutely not the time to stop paying attention to Burundi," Hampson said.

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