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Political Crisis in Burundi Risks Escalating Criminal Atrocities

Doudou Diene, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, speaks during a press conference to present a fresh report on rights violations in the country, Sept. 4, 2019, in Geneva.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said Wednesday that the country, following years of political turmoil, was primed for a genocide.

The commission's warning, contained in its latest report on human rights in Burundi, was based on an analysis developed by the U.N. Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect.

The three-member panel found that eight common risk factors for criminal atrocities leading to a possible genocide were present in Burundi.

Factors included an unstable political, economic and social environment; a climate of impunity for human rights violations; a weak judicial system; and the absence of an independent press and freedom of expression.

Commission member Francoise Hampson said the criteria identified by the Genocide Prevention Committee indicated that in countries where these factors were present, there was a risk the situation could deteriorate.

Hampson said the climate of fear had spread from the capital Bujumbura into the rural areas. She noted some of the hate speech and taunts hurled at political opponents on occasion had an ethnic dimension. She said these should act as an early warning, given the eight common risk factors for criminal atrocities present in Burundi.

“The elements of risk do not claim to predict either that something will happen, or if it does, when, or if it does, how, nor, does it predict what form it will take. The crisis in Burundi is essentially a political crisis,” she said.

Hampson added that “targeting people because of political affiliation does not come within the definition of genocide within the Genocide Convention.”

"On top of that, our own report shows the continuation of violations of human rights law based on human security,” she said. “So, things like arbitrary killings, torture, arbitrary detention. And this year, a deterioration … freedom of expression, freedom of association. Now that is actually already getting worse compared to last year."

Nkurunziza campaign

Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, defying critics who said he was violating constitutional term limits. Violence prompted more than 300,000 to flee the country.

The U.N. report documented widespread human rights violations by the Imbonerakure, including intimidation and harassment of political opponents, activists, journalists and human rights defenders.

After the report's release on Wednesday, Willy Nyamitwe, a senior adviser to Nkurunziza, tweeted a message that said, "Burundi is no longer interested in responding to lies and manipulation of opinion on the part of some Westerners whose aim is to destabilize Burundi."