Burundi president hate speech fuelling ‘crimes against humanity’: UN

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Chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Doudou Diene arrives to a press conference to present a report on rights violations in the country on September 5, 2018 in Geneva. UN investigators 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. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI

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” that government was committing crimes against humanity.

On Wednesday, it said such crimes were still 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.

“Some practices, such as the disposal of bodies or operating at night, tend to make these violations less visible. Nevertheless, they are still real,” head of the commission Doudou Diene said in a statement.

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 and triggered an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

‘Impunity’
“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 Wednesday, 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 they would make the list “available to any organ or jurisdiction tasked with carrying out independent and credible investigations on human rights violations and abuses committed in Burundi and which will guarantee the safety of the witnesses.”

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.”

The commission did not name the suspected perpetrators, but 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.

It lamented the increasing strength of the Imbonerakure and decried the constantly shrinking of democratic space in the country.

“The control exercised over Burundians by the ruling power and the Imbonerakure increased significantly and is felt in all aspects of daily life,” commission member Francoise Hampson said in the statement.

At the beginning of June this year, the 54-year-old Nkurunziza announced that he would not stand for another term in office 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 Wednesday that “the Constitutional Referendum organised in May 2018 and the campaign for the upcoming elections in 2020 have resulted in persecution, threats and intimidation towards persons suspected of opposing the government or not sharing the ruling party’s line, whether proven or not.”

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.

“It is all the more crucial to continue this work as Burundi is preparing for new elections in 2020, which have already resulted in human rights violations and abuse.”