The top United Nations human rights official today deplored the Burundian authorities’ suspension of 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including several working on peace and human rights issues, warning against a relapse into “full-fledged civil war.”
“This suspension appears to be an attempt by Burundian authorities to silence dissenting voices and to limit the democratic space,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said of the Central African country, which has been in the midst of a political crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term earlier this year.
“It reduces the chances of success of the proposed inter-Burundian dialogue, a key step to moving the country away from the increasingly bloody path it has been following over the past few months. This is deeply regrettable,” he added.
He warned about the worsening human rights and security situation in Burundi, where the UN played a key role in restoring stability after decades of strife between Hutus and Tutsis, and the risk of regional repercussions.
In 2006 Burundi became the first post-conflict nation, along with Sierra Leone, to be referred to the UN Peacebuilding Commission, newly created to help countries avert relapsing into bloodshed, but now that relative stability is under serious threat.
“There is still a chance and hope that Burundi can avoid a full-fledged civil war. This is why I urge all actors involved in the current crisis to refrain from violence and to engage in a meaningful and truly inclusive dialogue,” Mr. Zeid said.
He noted that the number of people killed or forced to flee their homes continues to steadily grow, with 277 killed since April, including 41 since 7 November, when the president’s ultimatum for Burundians to hand in all weapons ended. More than 280,000 Burundians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries or have been internally displaced.
Targeted attacks are on the rise in areas previously considered safe, and are increasingly directed against the police and Government officials, he warned.
“Police presence is heavy in Bujumbura (the capital) and search operations continue in some neighbourhoods, often accompanied by killings, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and sometimes extortion as well,” he added.
Referring to the NGOs, Mr. Zeid noted that none of the five media outlets suspended in June pending investigation has been able to resume activities, and voiced fears that the suspension of the 10 groups, some of which dealt with alleged torture and the rights of women and children, will be similarly prolonged.
Since April, at least 15 heads of NGOs have been forced to flee after receiving threats against themselves or family members, and four NGO members have been killed, two by police and two by unidentified armed men.
One of the newly suspended NGOs is APRODH (Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons) led by Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, who survived an assassination attempt in August and whose son and son-in-law were recently killed.