UN investigators on Wednesday warned that crimes against humanity and other serious rights violations were continuing unabated in Burundi, blaming in part President Pierre Nkurunziza’s repeated calls to hatred and violence.
In its first report last year, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said it had “reasonable grounds to believe” the government was committing crimes against humanity.
It said such crimes were ongoing, citing summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence.
“Serious human rights violations, including some which constitute crimes against humanity, have continued to be committed in Burundi, in 2017 and 2018,” the commission said as it released a fresh report on the situation in the tiny east African nation.
The investigators acknowledged that fewer bodies were being found in the streets than previously, but stressed that this simply indicated a shift in tactics.
“Some practices, such as the disposal of bodies or operating at night, tend to make these violations less visible. Nevertheless, they are still real,” commission chief Doudou Diene said in a statement.
– ‘Hiding bodies’ –
Commission member Francoise Hampson agreed.
“They are hiding the bodies,” she told journalists in Geneva. “More people are disappearing than were disappearing before… (and) there is every reason to believe that in a large number of cases they are ending up dead.”
Burundi plunged into crisis in 2015 after Nkurunziza sought a fiercely contested third term in office that his opponents said was unconstitutional.
Turmoil since then has killed at least 1,200 people, and has forced 400,000 to flee their homes, triggering an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
“Human rights violations documented by the Commission of Inquiry were aided by recurring calls for hatred and violence, including by the President of the Republic,” the commission said, saying such calls “took place in a general context of impunity.”
The UN investigators said they had “established a list of alleged perpetrators of crimes against humanity.”
They said the list was confidential, but that it could be shared with “any organ or jurisdiction tasked with carrying out independent and credible investigations… and which will guarantee the safety of the witnesses.”
– ‘Instrument of repression’ –
Diene stressed that the Burundian judicial system itself “has neither the will nor the capacity to establish who is responsible and to prosecute perpetrators of violations.”
“The judiciary has become an instrument of repression used by the executive against any form of protest or opposition.”
While refusing to name the suspected perpetrators, the commission has said members of the country’s National Intelligence Service, the police, military officials and members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, were behind many of the worst violations.
Hampson said that over the past year investigators uncovered fewer violations attributed to the military, but many more attributed to the strengthening Imbonerakure, who she said were controlled and enabled by the state.
“The control exercised over Burundians by the ruling power and the Imbonerakure increased significantly and is felt in all aspects of daily life,” she said.
At the beginning of June this year, the 54-year-old Nkurunziza announced that he would not stand for another term in 2020.
That announcement came just after the adoption of a new constitution under which the head of state could remain in office until 2034.
Diene warned that “the Constitutional Referendum organised in May 2018 and the campaign for the upcoming elections in 2020 have resulted in persecution, threats and intimidation.”
The investigators, who are set to present their report to the UN Human Rights Council later this month, urged the council to extend their mandate, stressing that increased vigilance would be needed in the run-up to the 2020 vote.
The pointed out that the ICC is investigating events in the past, but has no mandate to probe events after October 27, 2017, when Burundi withdrew from the court.
“There is no other international mechanism that functions independently and impartially that is currently documenting what is happening,” Hampson said, insisting “there needs to be a renewal of (the commission’s) mandate.”