GENEVA (17 December 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today urged the international community to take “robust, decisive” action on the situation in Burundi, to avert a civil war that could have serious ethnic overtones as well as alarming regional consequences.
“Burundi is at bursting point, on the very cusp of a civil war. The carnage of last week confirmed the extent to which violence and intimidation are catapulting the country back to the past – to Burundi’s deeply troubled, dark and horrendously violent past...and has only served to move the much-needed political solution further from reach,” High Commissioner Zeid told the Human Rights Council Special Session on Burundi*.
“The time for piecemeal responses and fiddling around the edges is over. The situation in Burundi demands a robust, decisive response from the international community. I called last month on the Security Council to consider all possible steps to stop the ongoing violence and prevent a regional conflict, including travel bans and asset freezes. Today, those calls are more relevant than ever. Diplomatic and political calculations must not eclipse the need for action.”
At least 400 people have been killed since 26 April – and the death toll may be considerably higher. Of these, up to 68 may have been extra-judicially executed in November. At least 3,496 people have been arrested in relation to the political crisis. Human rights defenders and independent journalists have fled the country and gone into hiding. And 220,000 people are now refugees in neighbouring countries, with many others internally displaced.
Zeid warned of the “growing, alarming risk of regionalisation of the crisis” and stressed the need for all States, but Burundi’s neighbours in particular, to play a constructive role in defusing the situation.
“Crucially, there needs to be very close monitoring of the borders with neighbouring countries. All appropriate measures must be taken – in line with international human rights law – to stop the reported flow of weapons into Burundi. The use of drones should be considered as one method of conducting such monitoring,” he said.
The High Commissioner also highlighted the untenable situation for human rights defenders and independent journalists, most of whom have fled the country. On Tuesday, another four rights defenders had to flee Burundi.
“Of the 220,000 terrified people who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, many are the same families that had to flee their homes during Burundi’s civil war, and had returned home over the past decade, full of hope for peace, stability and economic growth in their homeland,” he said. “Imagine the despair of having to relive such desperation and abandon one’s home yet again.”
“And among those who remain, the fear is palpable. A frightened, uninformed population, fed a diet of hate speech and paranoia, is one that may be recruited to the path of violence by either side of the current political impasse. The consequences of the mobilisation of more such individuals would be catastrophic – especially given that ethnic elements are already being stoked – given the country’s terrible history in this regard.”
The High Commissioner urged the Government of Burundi to take all necessary steps to disarm pro-government armed militia, including within the Imbonerakure, and to bring the operations of police, intelligence services and other security forces under the mantle of the law. The fight against the prevailing impunity is also paramount. In this context, he called for the involvement of the International Criminal Court.
“While the future of the county is in the hands of Burundian leaders, this Council has a clear responsibility to do all in its power to prevent the worst from materializing in Burundi in the coming days,” he said. “We owe no less to the people of Burundi, who have endured enough.”
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