UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has warned that an increasingly grave human rights crisis has gripped Burundi, with potentially very serious regional repercussions. Zeid last night appealed to the Security Council to explore all possible options to prevent further violence, including asset freezes, travel bans and other steps to stop the ongoing violence and prevent a regional conflict.
Burundian President Nkurunziza last week set an ultimatum for Burundians to hand in all weapons, warning that those who would not do so would be dealt with as “enemies of the nation.” The President of the Senate recently ordered local authorities to identify “elements which are not in order” and to report them to the police to be dealt with. He also called on the police to get ready to finish the work.
“Phrases such as these recall language that this region has heard before, and should not be hearing again. They could signal the imminence of much worse, and more widespread, violence,” Zeid warned.
Within Burundi, and particularly in Bujumbura, there have been increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings documented in recent months, including multiple alleged political assassinations, Zeid told the Security Council. At least 240 people have been killed since protests began in April. There have been hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention in the past month alone, targeting members of the opposition, journalists, human rights defenders and their families, people attending the funerals of those who have been killed, and inhabitants of neighbourhoods perceived to be supportive of the opposition. People who express divergent views from the Government continue to live in a climate of intense fear, and the spectre of more bloodshed is driving ordinary Burundians out of their homes.
“To make matters worse, it is reported that armed groups are recruiting in some refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and that agents of the Burundi Government are also present to identify opponents. These and other signs of a suddenly escalating regionalisation of this crisis lead me to emphasise that host countries must ensure the camps are duly protected and remain civilian in nature,” Zeid said.
Informing the Security Council that Burundi is at “a crucial and extremely dangerous tipping point,” the High Commissioner urged it to keep Burundi at the top of its agenda, and to explore all possible options to prevent further violence, including steps to freeze the assets of those who incite or engage in violence, and possible travel bans.
“The Council may also wish to consider invoking Chapter VII of the Charter, to stop the ongoing violence and prevent a regional conflict,” Zeid said.*
“The Government of Burundi should be apprised of the very serious consequences that will ensue if it fails in its duty to protect all Burundians, regardless of their political opinions or other affiliations. The urgent disarming of the Imbonerakure and all those who illegally possess arms must figure high on the agenda. If the Government has any hope of reining in the violence, it needs to begin by disarming the Imbonerakure militia and ensuring that police and SNR who have been responsible for human rights violations are brought to book.”
“It is also vital that all opinion leaders realise that speech which encourages ethnic divisions may trigger a catastrophic eruption of violence, and that it could expose the author to individual criminal responsibility,” he said, adding his strong support for the statement by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that anyone who incites or engages in acts of mass violence in Burundi may be subject to prosecution by the Court.
Zeid added that there have been many credible allegations of torture, notably at a locality in Bujumbura run by the SNR intelligence police. Violations have also been reported on the part of national police, and by the heavily armed API police unit that was created in September to fight against “acts of terrorism.” “Unidentified, but apparently well-armed and organised individuals opposed to the Government are also committing killings,” he said.
The High Commissioner stressed the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue in Burundi, in accordance with the Arusha Agreement which put an end to 12 years of massacres and warfare. He appealed to Burundi’s neighbours to step up their attempts to promote such a credible and inclusive dialogue, and to ensure that border areas or refugee camps in their respective national territories are not used by any actors to fuel the conflict.
“The current crisis has already undone much of Burundi’s recent political, economic and social progress. The resulting loss of life, economic collapse, increasing hunger, and mass displacement not only threaten peace and stability in the country, but also across the region,” Zeid said. “All possible influence must be brought to bear to halt what may be an imminent catastrophe.”
The High Commissioner called on the Government of Burundi to urgently take public and concrete steps to restore confidence, to prevent recourse to violence and to return Burundi to the path of peace, national harmony and development.
Source: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)