• On Wednesday, Burundi’s leading Human rights activist told the United Nations that more than 1000 people were killed in the country during the past year.

    This number is double the estimates given by the UN in March, which stood at about 500 people with more than 250,000 having fled the country.

    According to Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who was addressing a press conference at UN headquarters in New York, 1098 people have died, with 800 Burundians currently missing and about 5,000 have been imprisoned.

    “Today, the entire population lives in fear,” Mr Mbonimpa declared.

    Mr Mbonimpa, the founder and head of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Incarcerated Persons is a victim and a survivor of the violence that broke out in the nation in April last year when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intentions to run for a third term.

    “I am also suffering personally,” said Mbonimpa. “I have lost my child and also my son-in-law.”

    Last November, Mr Mbonimpa's son, Welly Nzitonda, was killed in the capital city, Bujumbura. His body was found hours after he had been arrested.

    A month before then, unidentified gunmen shot dead Pascal Nshirimana, Mr Mbonimpa’s son in law.

    Mbonimpa said that he was also wounded in an assassination attempt last August. He was taken for treatment to a hospital in Belgium, where he now lives in exile.

    Not everyone has been as lucky as Mbonimpa. Speaking on the same day, the United Nations Human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein decried an increase in violence in Burundi. He said that 31 people have been killed in attacks in Burundi this month, Reuters Reported.

    Since April last year, there have been an increased number of retaliated attacks between President Nkurunziza's security forces and those against his government.

    "Some 31 people have been killed in attacks so far in April, compared to a total of nine people in the last month," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

    "I fear that the increasing number of targeted assassinations will inevitably exacerbate the already extremely dangerous spiral of violence and unrest in Burundi."

    The latest attack left a brigadier general who had been recently appointed as a senior adviser to the first vice president along with his wife, their daughter and bodyguard dead.

    Early this week, the international war crimes court said it would investigate violence in Burundi.

    Burundi government is a driver of the crisis

    Over the past twelve months, the United Nations Security Council has tried to deploy peacekeeping mission in the country, an effort that has been fought by the Burundian government.

    Nkurunziza also has dismissed an attempt to impose an African Union peacekeeping force on the country arguing that his country would take such a move as an invasion and will respond accordingly. According to information from a panel of experts appointed by the council, Rwanda is involved in arming members of Burundi’s opposition, contributing to the mounting violence.

    Burundian human rights activists are pushing for a larger deployment of police unit which will have some capacity to protect civilians. The activists argued that anything less would be insufficient to stabilize the country and could even offer cover to the government as it continues to torture and kill.

    On Tuesday, a senior US official accused the local government of not being supportive of the initiatives being offered to end the crisis. He blamed the administration for doing everything possible to stop Washington helping civilians, according to AFP.

    "The government of Burundi is the driver, not the victim of this current crisis, whether it's on the political side or the economic side," Thomas Perriello, US special envoy for Africa's Great Lakes region, told a press conference in the capital Bujumbura.

    "The government is doing everything it can to make it impossible for us and other partners to continue to support the Burundian people and the Burundian economy."

    The official said that the opposition, as well as civil groups, accuse Nkurunziza of violating the Arusha peace deal that ended Burundi’s 1993 to 2006 civil war that left more than 300,000 people dead.

    According to Perriello there had been "concrete pledges from the president himself, just a few weeks ago, about the release of political prisoners — we have not seen that,” he said adding that there was “‘systematic documentation’ of torture and extrajudicial killings "at a time where the government says they are committed to making sure that Burundians feel safe for returning to their country".

    Perriello is in support of the former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, the chosen mediator in the Burundi crisis by the East African Community, to find a solution to the crisis including the establishment of a dialogue between the government and the ousted opposition.


    Image credit: Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana