UN says Burundi's political impasse and human rights worsen

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2017 8:45 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special adviser on Burundi warned Thursday that the political impasse in the East African nation is worsening, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, and there are increasing allegations of disappearances and other human rights violations.

Jamal Benomar said Burundi is still suffering from the crisis sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to successfully pursue a third term in 2015, which some called unconstitutional. Any attempt to seek constitutional amendments allowing the president to seek a fourth term would "risk intensifying the crisis," Benomar added.

Burundi has seen deadly political turmoil since 2015, with hundreds killed and almost 390,000 people fleeing the country. The U.N. refugee agency predicts the number of refugees will reach 500,000 by the end of the year.

Benomar told the U.N. Security Council that many Burundians live in fear as a result of widespread repression and increasing intimidation by the ruling party's youth militia. Opposition party members, as well as perceived opponents, "reportedly continue to be victims of arbitrary arrest, detention, ill-treatment and enforced disappearances," he said.

The U.N. human rights office reported an increase in allegations of enforced disappearances, with more than 210 allegations received between October and January, he said.

As for the humanitarian situation, Benomar said the number of people needing assistance reached three million — 26 percent of the population — in 2016. And according to the World Health Organization, 8.2 million Burundians — 75 percent of the country — were affected by malaria last year, he said.

"Political space has been narrowed further through repression," he said.

The government has refused to hold talks with the opposition or allow deployment of 228 U.N. police and human rights monitors, he said. It has also refused to allow the African Union to send 5,000 peacekeepers.

Benomar urged the international community "to support those who seek a peaceful resolution of the crisis."

"No progress will be achieved without all Burundian stakeholders committing in good faith to an inclusive dialogue process without preconditions," he said.

The Security Council has said several times it is ready "to consider further steps if necessary," including sanctions against those promoting violence and impeding peace in the country. But so far the council has taken no action.

In a letter earlier Wednesday, 19 human rights groups urged the Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against officials accused of gross human rights violations.

They said "some intelligence, army and police agents ... had been killing, torturing, beating innocent people including those fleeing to the neighboring countries in all impunity," aided by the ruling party's youth wing.

The U.N. secretary-general's special adviser for the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, recently warned in a letter to the council of "the risks of massive violence if nothing is done."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, the current council president, told reporters after closed consultations that members agree "that the window for prevention of conflict in Burundi is narrowing" and the situation is "deeply concerning."

Burundi's U.N. Ambassador Albert Shingiro called the security situation "overall good throughout the country" and said the allegation of 210 disappearances is "unfounded."

Shingiro said Burundi remains committed to dialogue and wants "to bolster and consolidate our relations with the U.N." And he said a draft cooperation agreement with the Geneva-based human rights office "is currently up for discussion."