Burundi’s government is behind systematic human rights abuses, including executions and torture, a new report by UN investigators has said, adding that some instances of these “gross human rights violations amount to crimes against humanity”.
Responding on Tuesday’s report, Burundi accused the UN of bias, saying its investigators were “politically motivated” and their conclusions based on anonymous and unverifiable sources.
The three independent investigators were tasked by the UN Human Rights Council in January with probing rights abuses in Burundi since it descended into violence in April 2015 over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to run for a third term – a vote he won in July of the same year.
The report by the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) said that “gross human rights violations have and are taking place, committed primarily by state agents and those linked to them”.
The UN human rights office has verified 564 cases of executions between April 26, 2015 and August 30, 2016, the investigators, who made two trips to Burundi and conducted 227 interviews, said.
They added, however, that this was “clearly a conservative estimate”.
A list of suspects will be handed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and be available in the event of any prosecutions, the investigators said.
The government denied all the allegations.
“@UNHumanRights did not respect the usual rules by releasing the report without the response of @BurundiGov,” the president’s communications chief Willy Nyamitwe tweeted.
The government has sent the UN rights commissioner a 40-page rebuttal, he added.
The investigators said they had received evidence of rape, disappearances, mass arrests as well as torture and murder, and that there were probably many thousands of victims.
“UNIIB found that the large majority of victims have been identified as people who were opposed or perceived to be opposed to the third mandate of President Nkurunziza or of members of opposition parties,” it said.
UNIIB said a former senior army officer told investigators of the existence of lists of people to be eliminated.
Witnesses named 12 senior members of the security forces – who report directly to top officials in the government – responsible for disappearances. Some of the people who said they had been tortured reported being held in secret jails, including at the homes of the president and a government minister.
The government denied the existence of such death-lists and said the accusations came from “those who want to sow division and the panic within the defence and security corps”.
“It is deplorable that the experts believed such gratuitous and diversionist assertions,” it said.
According to the UNIIB report, the bodies of some people who were summarily executed were transported across the Ruzizi river and buried in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It listed 17 types of torture used by the security forces, ranging from attaching weights to the testicles, to forcing a victim to sit on broken glass, or to stay next to the dead body of a relative.
Many women fleeing the country were subjected to sexual violence by the members of the youth wing of the ruling party, Imbonerakure, border guards and unidentified men, the report said. Women opposed to the president’s third term were also subjected to extreme sexual violence, it added.
More than 250,000 people fled to neighbouring countries in the wake of the violence, according to figures by the UN’s refugee agency.
Satellite imagery suggested the existence of mass graves, but the government did not respond to an offer to investigate the sites, the report said.
Burundi has set up three commissions of inquiry to look into human rights allegations, but the report accused the government of “blatantly failing” to investigate.
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