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Burundi's Human Rights Record Comes Under Critical Review by UN

Burundi nationals from across the U.S. and Canada, along with supporters, demonstrate outside U.N. headquarters, calling for an end to political atrocities and human rights violations in Burundi, April 26, 2016.

Member states participating in a U.N. review of Burundi's human rights record have accused the central African government of wide-scale abuse, including extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence and repression of the freedom of expression.

This is the third time Burundi has been examined under the Universal Periodic Review, a unique process that scrutinizes the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member states. Burundi is one of 14 states under examination.

Martin Nivyabandi, Burundi's minister of human rights, social affairs and gender, said major reforms have been made since its last U.N. review in 2013 to promote and protect human rights, including addressing human trafficking, protecting victims of gender violence, and reducing prison overcrowding.

He also said steps are being taken to make sure victims of human rights violations receive assistance.

"We have set up a department providing legal aid," Nivyabandi said. "Not providing access to a lawyer so much as providing advice on and orienting individuals and to make sure that a defense is guaranteed and to make sure that everybody's rights are upheld."

The head of the U.S. delegation, Jason Mack, expressed dismay at the continued threats against U.N. personnel by government officials and ruling party members in Burundi.

"We are deeply troubled by continued restrictions on political and civic space, for members of the opposition, independent media and civil society," Mack said. "A credible electoral process cannot take place without improvements and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of expression."

Burundi has suspended all cooperation and collaboration with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. It also has refused to grant access to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry to investigate rights abuses. Many member states at the hearing called on Burundi to reverse these decisions.