GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council must intervene in Burundi to prevent mass atrocities and the risk of a regional conflict, seven independent U.N. human rights investigators said on Thursday.
Looming presidential elections, at the heart of a political crisis in the east African country, were likely to trigger major instability and clashes which could spread across its borders, the experts said in a statement.
Opposition politicians have accused Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza of violating the constitution by running for a third term and are boycotting the vote due on July 21.
Dozens of people have already died in protests in the world's third poorest country which emerged from civil war in 2005. Hundreds of thousands have fled to other states with a history of ethnic conflict including neighboring Rwanda.
"The international community must not simply stand by and wait for mass atrocities to unfold, thereby risking a major conflict of regional proportions before it finally decides to act," they said.
The Security Council must "take immediate action to prevent Burundi from sliding back into conflict," they added, without going into detail on what action they wanted it to take.
Nkurunziza and his ruling party cite a constitutional court ruling allowing him to stand again. The government did not immediately respond to the statement but has said the vote will be fair and dismissed rights groups' accusations it is arming the Imbonerakure youth militia to crack down on dissent.
The president has resisted calls from Washington and other major donors not to stand and regional powers have asked Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to mediate.
The experts said there had been efforts to coerce the judiciary, some of whom had fled the world's third poorest country saying their lives were at risk, while armed militias were using violence against civilians.
"This is a crisis that is eminently preventable – everyone can see the risks," said the seven who each hold a mandate from the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate different areas of human rights.
"This can escalate into major conflict through the use of outright repression against, and intimidation of, the population at large, the instrumentalisation of the police, the closure of independent media, as well as the detention of the opposition and other civic leaders," they added.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)