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UN Human Rights Council Calls Special Session on Burundi

  • VOA News

Men carry away a dead body in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Dec. 12, 2015.

Men carry away a dead body in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Dec. 12, 2015.

The United Nations Human Rights Council says it will hold a special session on violence in Burundi later this week.

The session, set for Thursday, was called at the request of the United States, and supported by 17 members of the Human Rights Council and 25 observer states. Only one African state, Ghana, supported the measure.

This will be the first such special session for the group since April, when the Human Rights Council convened to discuss terrorist attacks and human rights abuses by the terrorist organization Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Thursday's session will consider a draft resolution asking the U.N. human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, to send a team of international experts to Burundi within 45 days to investigate the violence and recommend steps to ease tensions.

The U.S. special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, Thomas Perriello, told VOA's Central Africa service Monday that "the situation in Burundi is grave. We must focus on the security of the people."

Perriello visited Uganda recently, along with a team of envoys from the United Nations, African Union and European Union, to emphasize the need to launch a regional mediation for Burundi. He said he is optimistic the talks will begin soon in Uganda. "We think the talks should have started a while back, but tomorrow is the next best option,” he said.

Burundi has been in turmoil since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term. Critics said he was violating the constitution's two-term limit as well as an agreement that ended Burundi's 12-year civil war.

The president was re-elected in July, but violence has since escalated.

More than 80 people were killed Friday when armed attackers raided army facilities in the capital, Bujumbura. Among the dead were eight security officers and scores of assailants, according to an army spokesman.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote on Twitter Sunday that the killings in Burundi must end, including "disproportionate response by security services."

Also Sunday, the State Department told U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Burundi, and recommended that those already in the country leave as soon as possible as political violence persists.

Burundi's foreign minister Alain Nyamitwe has responded that while any country wishing to evacuate its nationals has the right to do so, the Burundian government will continue to fulfill its responsibility to protect not only its citizens but all foreigners. He told VOA the government has the security situation under control, and he said no expatriate has been threatened or killed in Burundi since the demonstrations began.

The United Nations says violence in Burundi since April has killed more than 240 people and prompted 220,000 Burundians to flee the country.

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