U.N. investigators warn Burundi’s coming elections could be compromised by increasing repression of political opponents, economic and social instability and growing criminality. The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has submitted its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The U.N. commission is appealing to the international community, especially to Burundi’s neighboring states, to persuade the government to hold free and transparent elections; but, the three-member panel indicates there are few signs that will happen.
Burundi’s presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections will be held May 20. Senegalese jurist and commission president Doudou Diene said the vote is taking place within a widespread climate of impunity for serious human rights violations.
Diene said witnesses have given damaging accounts of actions by members of the ruling party's youth league, the Imbonerakure. Witnesses accuse them of carrying out killings, rape, extortion of goods and funds, and forced recruitment into the party, known as the CNDD-FDD.
Diene also voices concern about the clampdown on freedom of speech, noting an increase in media censorship. He spoke through an interpreter.
“The government has continued to use the judicial system to silence civil society and the media. Human rights defenders remain arbitrarily detained…We are very concerned by the increase in hate speech with a political and/or ethnic dimension. This is circulating unrestricted on social media. We also note the silence of the Burundian authorities on this matter,” he said.
Diene calls the political intolerance in all the provinces of the country deplorable. He said the commission has documented numerous human rights violations, mainly targeting political opponents, including several members of the National Congress for Liberty.
“They have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for participating in their party’s activities, and some were also victims of violence and torture while many others were killed. Their family members, especially women, have also been targeted and were victims of serious violations, including sexual violence,” he said.
Burundi’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Renovat Tabu, said the report is politicized and that it is regrettable. Tabu said his government is used to what he calls the commission’s smear campaigns. Since it was established in 2016, he said the commission’s reports have been full of lies, defamatory and insulting allegations.
He said Burundi is an open and peaceful society, noting that 10 candidates already have registered for the elections.