As the people of the small African nation of Burundi get set to cast their votes in Monday's presidential election, an independent United Nations expert today warned of potential violence and human rights violations, citing a number of recent worrisome developments.
Akich Okola noted increasing reports of rights violations and security concerns since his last visit to the country during local elections last month. These included arbitrary arrests, detention and harassment of opposition politicians and their supporters, as well as grenade attacks resulting in the loss of life and destruction of property.
“I am concerned that this situation may lead to further violence and human rights violations,” Mr. Okola, the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, warned in a news release issued in Geneva.
Burundi was torn by ethnic conflict between majority Hutus and minority Tutsi, much like its northern neighbour Rwanda, site of the 1994 genocide, for decades after it became independent from Belgium in 1962.
More than 3.5 million people are registered to vote in the country's elections, the second since the Arusha Peace Accords of 2000 that ended the civil war.
Mr. Okola, who reports in an independent and unpaid capacity to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, also voiced regret that political parties decided to boycott presidential and other elections in protest against perceived irregularities during the local elections.
According to media reports, after the ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) won last month's polls, opposition parties grouped under the umbrella Alliance of Democrats for Change accused their rivals of electoral fraud, and said they would not participate in the presidential election, leaving incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza as the only candidate.
The Independent Expert appealed to political parties to continue participating in the electoral process, particularly the legislative elections slated for 23 July. “Boycotting them will impede the democratic process which was launched with the successful elections of 2005 and may increase the risk of violence and insecurity in the country,” he stressed.
During his visit to Burundi earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed how important it is that the remainder of the electoral cycle be as inclusive as possible, so that the Burundians conclude this critical phase of peace consolidation smoothly.
“I can assure you that the Secretary-General is continuing to follow developments closely, through his Executive Representative on the ground, Charles Petrie, who is working very closely with the African Union (AU), as well as regional partners and all stakeholders in Burundi,” Mr. Ban's spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told reporters in New York.
The Security Council too has spoken out on the situation in Burundi, urging political parties there to participate fully in the elections, while commending the progress made in the peace process so far.
“The members of the Council call upon all the political stakeholders of Burundi to participate fully in the electoral process, in particular the legislative and senatorial elections scheduled for 23 and 28 July 2010, to respect the result of the polls and to work to ensure the proper conduct of the presidential election scheduled for 28 June 2010,” the 15-member body said in a press statement issued earlier this week.