Burundi president’s repeated calls to hatred and violence ‘fuels violence’

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Geneva — 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 are continuous, 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. 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.

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”.

The list was confidential, but 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.”

Hampson said that over the past year investigators uncovered fewer violations attributed to the military, but many more attributed to the strengthening youth league of the ruling party, the Imbonerakure, who she said were controlled and enabled by the state.

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