FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet speaks at a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 5, 2018.
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet speaks at a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 5, 2018.

GENEVA - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says she deeply regrets Burundi’s decision to close down the U.N. Human Rights Office in the country.  Despite vigorous protests, she said Tuesday the office was forced to close its doors after a 23-year presence in Burundi.

Bachelet said the U.N. human rights office has been a force for good in Burundi, noting the agency has worked with the country’s government on peacebuilding, reforming its security and justice systems, and myriad other issues.

Unfortunately, she says many of these human rights gains have been seriously jeopardized since 2015.  That was when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term, sparking nationwide violent protests and a strong government crackdown.

The high commissioner’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said the government suspended all cooperation with the office in October 2016 after a U.N. investigation released a damning report on abusive conditions in the country.

“Our reports on the human rights situation in Burundi have always been developed in a constructive spirit, intended to support the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.  But the high commissioner is disappointed by Burundi’s lack of cooperation in recent years with U.N. human rights mechanisms, which even went so far as to include threats to prosecute members of the independent international commission of inquiry,” Shamdasani said.

Over the past two years, Shamdasani said the U.N. human rights staff has been severely hampered in its ability to look into allegations of violations. Nevertheless, she said, her office has continued to receive allegations of human rights abuses.

She said the office has received very credible reports of killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, threats and restrictions on the freedom of expression and movement.

Despite the closure of the office, she said U.N. staff will continue to monitor the situation in Burundi by various means to shed light on human rights concerns and to lend support to those in need of protection.  

She said High Commissioner Bachelet stands ready to engage constructively with Burundi.