UN rights chief warns over upsurge in Burundi killings
“Almost every day, dead bodies are found lying on the streets of some of Bujumbura’s neighbourhoods,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
“In many cases, the victims appear to have been killed by a bullet fired at close range. The bodies sometimes show signs of torture and are typically found with their hands tied behind their backs,” he said.
Zeid noted that many of the victims had reportedly been arrested by police of Burundi’s National Intelligence Agency (SNR) before their deaths.
“This succession of unexplained killings, and the widespread perception that they may be linked to state institutions, is instilling a deep sense of fear within the population, especially in neighbourhoods known to be supportive of the opposition,” he warned.
Burundi, in the heart of a region that has been one of the world’s most volatile over the last three decades, has been gripped by unrest since April surrounding a violent and discredited election.
President Pierre Nkurunziza won a highly controversial third term in July in polls boycotted by the opposition and denounced by the United Nations as neither free nor fair.
His re-election bid sparked an attempted coup by rebel generals and months of civil unrest led by opposition groups, who condemned it as unconstitutional.
The government accuses those who took part in the protests against his third term of “insurrection”.
– ‘Absolute impunity’ –
Since April, Zeid’s office said it had registered 134 killings, more than 90 cases of torture and hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, including 704 arrests this month alone.
“We have also been receiving many allegations of torture carried out by the police or the SNR, with the reported aim of forcing victims to confess to participation in an armed rebellion,” Zeid said.
“The perpetrators of both torture and killings appear, to date, to have enjoyed absolute impunity,” he lamented.
Zeid stressed that because such serious crimes are going unpunished, “more people are looking to take the law into their own hands.”
“There is an increasing risk that spiralling tit-for-tat violence will plunge the country back into its bloody past,” he warned.
Burundi’s civil war killed at least 300,000 people from 1993-2006 and sporadic violence has continued since, with fears mounting of a renewed conflict, which could have ripple effects throughout the region.
Zeid also said search operations had intensified across Burundi aimed at seizing illegal weapons, and that in Bujumbura, police now often surround specific neighbourhoods, blocking all entry and exit points to carry out the searches.
“Given these searches sometimes continue for several days, this method raises serious concerns with regard to freedom of movement,” he said, also noting “consistent accusations” of looting and destruction of property by police during the searches.