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Statement by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the situation in Burundi

Geneva, 29 June 2016

Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

I am honoured to present the report of my Office on the human rights situation in Burundi. It is based on the work – may I say, the arduous and deeply honourable work – of my staff based in Bujumbura, Bujumbura Rural, Gitega, Makamba and Ngozi, as well as information provided by other human rights actors, and by the authorities.

This report details the tragic and comprehensive deterioration in the human rights of the people of Burundi during the year following the political crisis of April 2015. The violations inflicted on them include extrajudicial executions, murder, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including sexual violence. The perpetrators of these human rights violations and abuses reportedly are members of the security and intelligence forces;  members of an armed element connected to the Imbonerakure, which itself is associated with the governing party; as well as other armed groups and individuals.

Together with attacks and restrictions on fundamental public freedoms, these violations and abuses have created a climate of fear. Members of civil society organisations, journalists, members of opposition parties and demonstrators have been attacked, subjected to enforced disappearance, arbitrarily detained or threatened. Members of the ruling party, security forces and Imbonerakure members have also been the target of assassinations and grenades attacks.

The latest figures, from 20 June, indicate that almost 270,000 people have been forced to flee Burundi. A further 100,000 people have been displaced within the country.

Checkpoints and the fear of violence severely curtail movement throughout Burundi, particularly in neighbourhoods in Bujumbura which are perceived as supportive of the opposition, and which have been repeatedly locked down for security sweeps. Since June 2015, persons travelling to and from neighbouring countries are at a high risk of arrest and detention under suspicion of attempting to join a rebel group. The economy is in free-fall, squandering the development gains made during eight years of sustained growth. Violence severely impedes access to employment, education, health services and other fundamental rights.

Since February, the government has taken some positive steps to resolve a limited number of issues. International arrest warrants have been suspended for 15 members of civil society, members of the opposition, and media workers. Two radio stations were able to reopen, and the suspension of the activities of one NGO was lifted. Following the visit of the Secretary General, a number of detainees were released, and 47 people arrested in the context of demonstrations against the third mandate of President Nkurunziza were provisionally released following their trial. However, hundreds of people remain in jail because of their real or perceived opposition to the Government.

Excellencies,

This report extends to the end of April 2016. More recently, my office has observed a decline in the number of victims reported killed – and while it may be too early to term this a positive trend, it is clearly a positive observation to be encouraged. However, cases of arbitrary arrest, detention and torture continue unabated. I am dismayed by continuing reports of the suspension and arrest of schoolchildren and students for having scribbled on pictures of the President in textbooks.

Furthermore, I am alarmed by the very real prospect of an escalation in ethnic violence. In the past six weeks a number of members of the defunct Armed Forces of Burundi, or ex-FAB, have been murdered, possibly because of their Tutsi ethnicity. In the south of the country, I have also been informed of speeches by members of the Imbonerakure amounting to incitement to violence against political opponents, with strong ethnic overtones. Given Burundi’s recent history of ethnic bloodshed, these acts of incitement are potentially explosive. I urge the authorities to bring those responsible to justice. 

My report details a number of vital recommendations to the Government of Burundi and to the international community. Above all, I urge an end to the violations of human rights that are devastating the lives, hopes and future of the people of the country; and resolution of this crisis through a truly inclusive national dialogue.