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Human rights crisis puts Burundi on edge


Face off worsens between UN, government


burundi_s_president_pierre_nkurunzizaBy Akintola Lukmon


On Monday, the Burundi government banned United Nations (UN) investigators from entering the country. This came after the UN investigators recently released a report accusing Burundi of gross human rights violations.

According to a formal letter signed by Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Alain Aime Nyamitwe, the three UN investigators, namely, Pablo de Greiff of Colombia, Christof Heyns of South Africa, and Maya Sahli-Fade of Algeria were no longer welcome in Burundi.

In response to this, the UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric urged the Burundi government to continue co-operate with the UN Human right investigators.

“It’s critical that Burundi and every other country co-operate fully with UN human rights mechanism and that is including working with those representing it,” he urged.

It will be recalled that a renewed incidence of political crisis had resurged Burundi in April 2015. This came after the President Pierre Nkrunziza announced his intention to run for third term, which goes against Arusha accords and the state’s constitution. Being the incumbent, President Nkrunziza organized an election, which was boycotted by the opposition party. This election earned him third term in office and this made the opposition party to be exiled.

It is imperative to note that this crisis reopened the Burundi’s brutal past. It further fuel ethnic rivalry, which has long been quenched by the Arusha peace accord in 2000. The political crisis in Burundi further deepens the polarization between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. Economic activities have been severely affected. This is evident in the disruption of the trade between the state’s capital, Bujumbura and other countryside.

According to report, about 10 percent of the Burundi’s population (1.1 million people) is in need of humanitarian assistance. The conflict has also led to the death of about 500 people and over 270,000 people have fled the country.

Only last month, the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi (UNIIB) published its final report, which revealed various crimes against humanity that were carried out by the Burundi government.

The UNIIB report documented hundreds of cases of summary executions, targeted assassinations, arbitrary detention and torture. Mass execution of people that were opposed to Nkurunziza’s third term ambition has been out carried by the security forces. It was filed in the report that there are 17 different forms of torture and ill-treatment in Burundi. For instance weights are attached to victims’ testicles, their fingers and toes are crushed with pliers, progressive burning with a blow torch, and they are forced to sit in acid or on broken glass or nails.

Painfully, members of civil society, human rights and journalists are the major targets of Nkruziza’s government. The report stated that over 400,000 Burundians have been displaced internally and fled the country as refugees.

In addition, sexual abuse and mass rape was highly pervasive in Burundi. According to UN report, women and girls were sexually harassed while trying to flee the country. Another disturbing case was extreme sexual mutilation and other forms of sexual violence in the country. All these are the trends of human rights abuse in the east African country.

Observers say abuse may get worse

The pervasive abuse of human rights in Burundi will continue if violence still persists in the country. The opposition party still remains in exile harming its forces against Nkurunziza’s government. In the same vein, the ruling government is using all available means, including military force to keep its power. Consequently, violent conflict is still pervasive in Burundi and hence, human rights abuse in a conflict environment will be inevitable.

Few days ago, Burundi government announced its intention to withdraw from International Criminal Court (ICC). The Burundian Vice President, Gaston Sindimwo affirmed: “we have sent to the national assembly a draft law for adoption … to withdraw from the ICC. We found that it was necessary to withdraw from that organization so we can really be free.”

No gainsaying, Burundi as a sovereign nation has its right withdraw its membership from any international organization. However, the consequences of its withdrawal from ICC will be dire as gross human rights abuse in the state will increase. This is based on the argument that ICC will have no right to trial the Burundian government for any crime it commits if its no more a signatory. Little or nothing will be done to Nkrunziza’s growing inhumane actions against human lives. From this perspective, crime against humanity may get worse in Burundi.

In addition, the denial of UN investigators to enter Burundi has revealed the growing wings of Nkrunziza-led government in maintaining the status quo. Thus, if this trend continues, more lives are at stake and no cogent development will take place in the state. In other words, businesses will not thrive, children will be denied quality education, Multinational Corporations will not invest in the country, amongst others.

Observers say that to put an end to the Burundian crisis, Nkurunziza-led government needs to abide by the Arusha accords. They want the UN investigators to be allowed into the country to carry out their duties while the African Union (AU) and other relevant international organizations should mediate between the warring parties. Most importantly, they affirm, peace building processes should urgently commence even within the state. But is the third term-seeking Nkurunziza and his band of layalists listening?


Burundi President, Pierre Nkurunziza


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