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UN Commission Warns of New Burundi Political Crisis in 2020

FILE - A police officer keeps an eye on demonstrators as a water canon clears barricades in the Nyakabyga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, May 8, 2015.
FILE - A police officer keeps an eye on demonstrators as a water canon clears barricades in the Nyakabyga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, May 8, 2015.

A U.N. commission on Burundi says the country is poised for another political crisis when it holds elections next year. The three-member commission of inquiry says the ruling party is trying to harass and intimidate opponents and creating the conditions for unfair elections.

The chair of the commission of inquiry on Burundi warns the democratic space in the country is rapidly shrinking.

Senegalese lawyer Doudou Diene says the government’s efforts to convince observers the situation has returned to normal since the 2015 political crisis ring hollow.

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a controversial third term in 2015 provoked deadly clashes, prompting hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country to escape threats and violence.

Diene, who presented the commission's report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, says serious human rights abuses have continued. He says the abuses have a political dimension as they occurred following the May 2018 referendum which amended the constitution, allowing Nkurunziza to run for at least two more terms.

Diene says most of the victims are opponents and members of a new party aimed at defeating the ruling party.

“Members of this party are regularly subject to threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, even torture," he said. "The party itself faces several challenges in conducting basic activities, such as organizing meetings or opening offices.”

Diene says the commission has well-founded fears about the fairness of the 2020 elections. He says free and credible elections cannot occur when only the ruling party is able to operate and when independent voices are stifled. Again, he speaks through an interpreter.

"The history of elections in Burundi, including last year’s constitutional referendum, has always been marred by violence and serious human rights violations. Some worrying signs can already be seen in the current pre-electoral background," he said.

The commission is urging Burundi's government to take strong measures to renew the vitality of the democratic space, which is necessary for holding credible elections.

Burundi’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Renovat Tabu, has rejected the report, which he says offers an apocalyptic picture of a plan of destabilization on the eve of the election.

The ambassador says the commission has presented no proof that the election could become the scene of a serious deterioration of human rights. He says it is easy to lie when claims cannot be verified, and calls the commission report an act of sabotage.