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UN probe: Risk of genocide in Burundi, state behind systematic human rights abuses

The UN report urged swift international action to "prevent further mass violations with ethnic connotations." Photograph: (AFP)

WION Geneva, Switzerland Sep 20, 2016, 11.00 PM (IST)
A United Nations team tasked with investigating the human rights abuses in Burundi on Tuesday said the violations, including executions and torture were committed primarily by state agents and those linked to them.

Warning of the looming risk of genocide, the investigators said Burundi's government was behind the systematic human rights violations.

"Given the country's history, the danger of the crime of genocide also looms large," the report warned.

The report by three independent experts said some instances of gross human rights violations, in fact, amounted to crimes against humanity. 

They obtained satellite images and testimony corroborating the existence of mass graves, as well as several lists of both civilians and military personnel destined for "targeted assassinations" by security forces.

"UNIIB found that the large majority of victims have been identified as people who were opposed or perceived to be opposed to the third mandate of President Nkurunziza or of members of opposition parties," it said, adding:

"There are worrying signs of a personality cult being built around the president."

The list of suspects will be handed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and be available in the event of any prosecutions.

Burundi had descended into violence in April 2015, over President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial decision to run for a third term -- a vote he won in July.

The UN human rights office verified 564 cases of executions between April 26, 2015 and August 30, 2016, calling it "clearly a conservative estimate".

Thousands have been tortured, suffered sexual abuse or disappeared, while arbitrary detention has happened "on a massive scale", the report said.

But the government accused the team of bias, saying the investigators were politically motivated and their sources could not be verified. 

More than 1,000 people have been killed since the crisis began and nearly 300,000 people have fled the country as refugees.

The UN painted a bleak picture for the state, saying that without dramatic changes from Burundi's government and robust engagement from the international community, "the country's downward spiral is unlikely to be reversed," endangering the entire region.

It called on the UN rights council to create a Commission of Inquiry to investigation the violations in Burundi.

And they also asked the UN General Assembly to consider whether Burundi could remain a Human Rights Council member -- marking a first in the council's decade-long history.

(WION with inputs from agencies)
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