Amid the “deadly escalation” of violence in Burundi, the United Nations human rights chief today sounded the alarm at the unfolding crisis in the country and urged all actors in the current crisis to take every step possible to stop the growing violence and engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue.
“More than ever before, there is an urgent need for decisive action from the international community to stop this senseless violence. We cannot turn our backs on the people of Burundi at this turning point of their history,” spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Cécile Pouilly told reporters in Geneva during a regular press briefing.
The latest call comes following the attacks on 11 December against several military camps in Bujumbura, which killed dozens of people in the course of heavy fighting prompting the UN Secretary-General to condemn the attacks and add that “such acts of violence can lead to a further destabilization of the situation in crisis-torn Burundi.”
According to Ms. Pouilly, the security forces carried out intensive house searches later in the Musaga and Nyakabiga neighbourhoods, where they arrested hundreds of young men, allegedly summarily executing a number of them and taking many others to unknown locations.
“With this latest series of bloody events, the country seems to have taken a new step towards outright civil war and tensions are now at bursting point in Bujumbura,” said Ms. Pouilly.
She added that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged all stakeholders to start inclusive dialogue and added that there is an urgent need for decisive action from the international community to stop this senseless violence. We cannot turn our backs on the people of Burundi at this turning point of their history.
Burundi has been in the midst of a political crisis that has driven countless people fleeing to safety in neighbouring countries since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term earlier this year. Mr. Zeid and a host of senior UN officials including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have repeatedly called for calm and the resumption of the national dialogue that was suspended in mid-July.
At a press conference in the UN Headquarters today, two UN Emergency Directors briefed the media about their recent visit to the country and warned that “urgent action is needed to prevent a descent into catastrophic violence in Burundi.”
“Burundi is facing a critical crossroads. The levels of displacement and food insecurity are already concerning, but we risk another full-blown humanitarian crisis without urgent progress on the political front,” John Ging, the Emergency Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters.
At the same press conference, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Emergency Director, Afshan Khan stressed that children are bearing the brunt of the violence in Burundi, as many have been killed wounded and arbitrarily detained and many more are living with the constant sound of gunshots and grenades.
“These violations against the children of Burundi must end now. Children must be protected from all forms of violence and their rights must be respected,” warned Mr. Khan.
According to UNICEF and OCHA, intensified violence in the country is worsening the humanitarian plight of an already vulnerable population, with over 80 per cent of families below the poverty line, 7 per cent of the population severely food insecure, and 58 per cent of people chronically malnourished, placing Burundi at 184 out of 187 on the recently released Human Development Index.
The UN agencies also added that many areas of the country are suffering the ill-effects of El Niño, with widespread flooding having destroyed homes and livelihoods.
Before the crisis, donor funding accounted for over half of Burundi’s budget, however, several bilateral donors have suspended budget support in response to the political crisis, which is further straining the provision of essential public services like health and clean water, warned the UN Agencies.
Free healthcare for young children and mothers has just been suspended, a cut which is likely to have severe public health impacts, they added.
The UN agencies reported that in the past four days, about 100 people have been killed by violence in Bujumbura, and an estimated 340 people have been killed since April.
“Action is needed now to prevent a descent into catastrophic violence. Worsening tension in a country with a history of deep ethnic divisions must be urgently addressed to protect civilians from further harm,” warned Mr. Ging.
Further, the UN agencies noted that popular protests following the political crisis have been heavily repressed by security forces, resulting in significant human rights abuses and repression of the media.
Additionally, they also reported that nearly 220,000 people have fled Burundi and an additional 15,000 people have been displaced within the country since April.
The Emergency Directors of seven UN agencies, the International Organization for Migration and three international NGOs travelled to Burundi from 2 to 5 December to assess the deteriorating humanitarian situation, according to the UN agencies.