People of Burundi continue to experience unlawful acts, which have been spreading from the capital, Bujumbura to the rest of the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday he feared the acts of violence and incitement in Burundi's crisis could turn ethnic in nature. But the government has refuted the claims.
In the past months, there have been increasing reports of brutality by Burundian intelligence services and the police, who have been accused of arresting and torturing many people who are perceived as opponents.
Reports by the Human Right Watch (HRW) indicate that intelligence has been using crude methods to carry out investigations including melting burning plastic on victims, tying ropes to their genitals and pulling them, beating them with steel rods and shocking them with electricity. One man who was tortured by a member of the intelligence services told HRW: “They tortured me with a cable. They wrapped it around my leg. I sat next to a socket where they plugged the cable in. They plugged it in and disconnected it, shocking me, while asking questions.”
Addressing a meeting in Geneva, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also said he was concerned over the recent arrests of students accused of defacing portraits of President Pierre Nkurunzisa earlier this month.
Earlier in the month, over 500 students were sent home from schools in the country for doodling on Nkurunzisa’s photos on textbooks.
Burundi has been in chaos since April last year when Nkurunzisa pursued and won the controversial elections. Critics said the move violated the constitution and the 2005 deal that brought to an end a civil war. Various organizations and agencies have tried to reach out and reconcile the government and the opposition in vain.
The birth of Imbonerakure
According to Zeid, the Central African country, which has an ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, has since April seen a reduced number of deaths from the mayhem. He, however, noted that the arbitrary arrests, detention and torture had continued while ex-officers of the defunct armed forces, or FAB, had been killed because of their Tutsi ethnicity.
A group of young people associated with the ruling party is allegedly engaging in serious abuses including rape.
According to HRW the group named Imbonerakure, and does not have legal powers of arrest, have taken into custody people in front of police, military and border officials, accusing them of collaborating with Burundian armed groups in Rwanda. Imbonerakure beat them and handed them over to the intelligence services where some were tortured.
"I am alarmed by the very real prospect of an escalation in ethnic violence," he said.
"In the south of the country, I have also been informed of speeches by members of the Imbonerakure amounting to incitement to violence against political opponents, with strong ethnic overtones," he added.
The government has rebuffed Zeid's accusations saying his report to the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva was not only imbalanced but also omitted a lot of other items.
"We would like to remind the council that the Imbonerakure are just members of the youth league of the CNDD-FDD, just like any other party in Burundi that has a youth component in its organization. Their stigmatization, through the different reports and statements, has cost a lot of lives," Burundian Human Rights Minister Martin Nivyabandi said.
"It's scandalous that the report does not mention young people who have tried to create chaos, after being recruited, trained and armed. There serious attacks with heavy weapons... murders by non-identified actors against members of defense and security forces - we don't really see it in this report," Reuters reported.
Willy Nyamitwe, a senior adviser to the president of Burundi, also rejected claims that the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth wing, is spreading hate speech and attacking people.
“They do not have weapons. They are not killing people,” he said adding the UN reports do not give evidence about their findings and as such “there is no fact, there is flying rumors.”
Image credit: AP