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Burundi: Zeid deplores NGO crackdown; renews call for inclusive dialogue

GENEVA (25 November 2015) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday deplored the decision by Burundian authorities to suspend ten non-governmental organisations, including several organizations working on peace and human rights issues, including torture and the rights of women and children.

“This suspension appears to be an attempt by Burundian authorities to silence dissenting voices and to limit the democratic space. It reduces the chances of success of the proposed inter-Burundian dialogue, a key step to moving the country away from the increasingly bloody path it has been following over the past few months. This is deeply regrettable,” the High Commissioner said.

“None of the five media outlets that were suspended last June pending investigation have yet been able to resume their activities. There are fears that the suspension of these ten NGOs will have a similar, prolonged effect,” Zeid said.

On 19 November, the General Prosecutor of the Republic requested various banks to suspend the accounts of the ten NGOs targeted by the ministerial decree.

“Civil society organizations should be able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and without undue restrictions,” added Zeid. “But the sad reality is that Burundian civil society has been significantly weakened since the beginning of the crisis. Many human rights defenders and civil society activists have been killed, assaulted, arrested, threatened or forced to flee the country.”

Since April, at least 15 heads of NGOs have been forced to flee Burundi after having received threats against themselves or their family members, including seven heads of the NGOs that were suspended. Four members of NGOs have also lost their lives: two were killed by police forces and the two others by unidentified armed men.

The High Commissioner noted that among the groups suspended is the APRODH (Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons), an NGO led by Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a well-known human rights activist who survived an assassination attempt in August and whose son and son-in-law were recently killed.

The High Commissioner also warned about the worsening human rights and security situation in Burundi and the risk of regional repercussions.

“The number of people killed in Burundi continues to steadily grow, as does the number of people forced to flee their homes,” he said, noting that some 277 people have been killed since April, including 41 since 7 November, when the President’s ultimatum for Burundians to hand in all weapons ended. More than 280,000 Burundians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or have been internally displaced.

“Targeted attacks are also on the rise and are now taking place in neighbourhoods of Bujumbura that were previously considered to be safe,” said Zeid.

He also noted that violent attacks, which used to occur at night, are now also taking place earlier in the evening, and are increasingly directed against police forces and Government officials.

“Police presence is heavy in Bujumbura and search operations continue in some neighbourhoods, often accompanied by killings, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and sometimes extortion as well,” the High Commissioner said.

“There is still a chance and hope that Burundi can avoid a full-fledged civil war. This is why I urge all actors involved in the current crisis to refrain from violence and to engage in a meaningful and truly inclusive dialogue,” said Zeid.


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