Police in Burundi say the country’s environment minister was shot dead in the capital early Sunday.
Police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said in a tweet that Emmanuel Niyonkuru, who was 54, was killed in Bujumbura while on his way home.
The shooting is the first of a senior government official since Burundi fell into political turmoil nearly two years ago over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term.
Human rights groups have warned that the tiny African country is at risk of genocide, calling for international action. They recently released a report that documents widespread abuses under the government of Nkurunziza.
The report describes killings, tortures, rapes and disappearances in Burundi since popular protests erupted in 2015 against the president’s third-term bid.
The report also says more than 1,000 people have died, hundreds have gone missing and thousands more are being detained or fleeing the country. It says many of the abuses were committed by youth militias and government security forces.
The human rights groups have called for an international peacekeeping mission and political dialogue to resolve the crisis.
Warnings of genocide
Florent Geel, Africa director for the Paris-based umbrella group International Federation for Human Rights, said, “Each day, a few people are arrested, disappeared, are killed. This is not a massive violation where all the cameras are coming, but it’s a daily violation.”
Anschaire Nikoyagize, the head of Burundian rights group ITEKA, currently lives in exile in Uganda. He said a new government census is among the tools being used to push Hutus to side with the government and turn a political conflict into an ethnic one — in a country scarred by a history of ethnic killings.
United Nations investigators have also warned of risks of a genocide in Burundi, and the International Criminal Court is considering a full investigation into alleged atrocities. The government, which denies its forces are involved in abuses, recently announced it was pulling out of the ICC.
Lisa Bryant in Paris contributed to this article.