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UN Burundi Election May Destabilize Region

Relatives and friends gather during the funeral of Patrick Ndikumana, July 3, 2015, in Bujumbura, Burundi.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warns politically-inspired violence preceding Burundi’s presidential election next week could explode and lead to regional instability.

Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein says he is alarmed by the escalating pattern of politically- motivated violence in Burundi. He says this, coupled with the country’s history of recurring bloodshed and atrocities, should alert the international community to a potential crisis that could have a devastating impact on the stability of the whole region.

Hussein notes more than 145,000 refugees already have fled to neighboring countries because of the increasingly tense situation in Burundi. Over the past two months, the High Commissioner’s Field Office in Burundi has documented over 300 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of demonstrators, human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists.

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein answers questions during a press conference.
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein answers questions during a press conference.

Documented cases of torture

The U.N. monitors also have documented cases of torture and ill-treatment in detention, as well as dozens of killings of demonstrators and human rights defenders by members of the Imbonerakure militia and security forces.

The High Commissioner’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, says targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror have pushed many people out of the country.

“Refugees interviewed by our staff in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], in Rwanda and in Tanzania continue to refer to the Imbonerakure militia as the main threat, but some have also stated that militants from other groups are also now employing violence and that is also a new and disturbing development," he said.

Colville says he is alarmed by recent interviews given to the media by leaders of the attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza in May. He says their professed intentions to organize military units and resort to the use of force are very disturbing.

Colville tells VOA the African Union, European Union and East African regional organizations are refusing to monitor next week's presidential election because they consider it illegitimate. He says this does not bode well for the credibility of this process.

“I think everyone is pretty well agreed, apart from the government, that the electoral process is in a real crisis and obviously not having the monitors that were planned will cast a big question mark over this election," he said.

High Commissioner Zeid is calling for an urgent peaceful solution to this crisis. He says it is critical that all sides come together and make a serious effort to find that solution. Otherwise, he warns there is a real risk of a headlong march toward uncontrollable violence in Burundi.