The United Nations Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, has expressed concern at inflammatory statements concerning the genocide in Rwanda that were made by a senior official of the ruling party in Burundi and cautioned that such statements could constitute incitement to violence.
On 16 August, Pascal Nyabenda, at that time the President of the ruling Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD) party and President of the National Assembly suggested that the genocide in Rwanda was a “fabrication of the international community” and that it was used to remove the Hutu government that was in place at the time.
“[It] has the potential to inflame ethnic tensions, both within Burundi and outside its borders,” he warned.
A new head of the CNDD-FDD has been appointed by the party at its meeting on 20 August but Mr. Nyabenda continues in his role as President of the National Assembly.
The statement added that the situation in the African country continues to be marred by instability and serious human rights violations, including allegations of extra-judicial killings, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detention of members of the opposition, civil society and those suspected of opposing the Government continue to be reported.
Concerns at the situation in Burundi were also expressed by the Geneva-based UN Committee Against Torture in their concluding observations, issued on 11 August, following its review of a special report submitted at the request of the Committee.
Mr. Dieng’s statement noted that the Committee had urged the Government of Burundi to refrain from making any public statements that could exacerbate ethnic tensions or incite violence or hatred and to ensure that public and law enforcement officials do not accept or tolerate such acts.
The Committee Against Torture is a body of independent human rights experts who monitor the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its State parties.
Mr. Dieng’s statement also noted that human rights defenders and journalists are among the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the country since April 2015.
He further raised concern that the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD party, known as the Imbonerakure, continues to be associated with human rights abuses and is reported to have threatened ethnic violence.
According to the country’s Minister of the Interior, the Imbonakure formed part of the national security strategy, noted the statement.
Reminding the Government of its obligation to protect its populations, regardless of their ethnicity or political affiliation, and to refrain from any action or discourse that could inflame ethnic tensions, Mr. Dieng stressed:
“[It is important to] counter such messages with alternative speech to foster unity rather than further entrench divisions, and [I call] call on all parties to prioritize inclusive dialogue to bring about an end to the protracted crisis.”
Burundi was thrown into crisis more than a year ago when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term that he went on to win. To date, it has been reported that hundreds of people have been killed, more than 240,000 have fled the nation, and thousands more have been arrested and possibly subjected to human rights violations.