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Africa

Burundi: Dialogue must resume immediately to prevent ‘systematic violence’, says US envoy

media Burundi police patrol the streets of Musaga district in the capital Bujumbura after the results of the elections, 24 July 2015. Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Burundi needs to restart inclusive political dialogue immediately to bring an end to the violence, according to Thomas Perriello, the US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, a leaked UN human rights briefing to the UN Security Council has said that Burundi is “rapidly degenerating toward renewed armed conflict”.

“There’s a need to immediately resume the political dialogue,” said Perriello in a conference call from Washington.

Political dialogue must include “participants from across the spectrum” and should not be seen as just a “move towards a unity government” but encouraging a “return to open political space where rights are respected”.

Perriello warned that a “fragile and fatal situation” in Burundi risked becoming one of “systematic violence” if dialogue does not resume immediately.

The American diplomat pointed out that the US has already taken some measures against Burundi’s government and was willing to consider further sanctions if the situation did not improve.

“We have already made some moves related to visa and travel restrictions, we’ve already suspended several security assistance programmes,” Perriello said. “We’re reviewing their eligibility on trade preferences as well as some important additional steps that we will have to consider.”

There has been a “major deterioration” in the human rights situation in Burundi, according to a leaked briefing from Ivan Šimonović, the UN’s assistant secretary-general for human rights.

In comments to the UN Security Council on 10 August, Šimonović said that the UN human rights office in Burundi has confirmed 94 people killed since the beginning of election-related violence, mostly among the opposition. At least 600 people have been arrested and detained since April 2015. Many of them have been “subjected to torture, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment”.

Furthermore, Šimonović said they are concerned by “shrinking of democratic space” and a “new worrying trend” emerging with the killing of ruling CNDD-FDD party members, which is a “sign that a segment of the opposition is increasingly more organised and ready to resort to violence”.

In a series of action points, Šimonović said he had spoken to the International Criminal Court prosecutor and she said that if the situation in Burundi worsens she “may consider sending investigators to the ground and open a preliminary investigation”.

Human rights activists are not surprised by the contents of the leaked briefing by Šimonović, but want to see more concrete action and a concerted effort to restart dialogue.

“It’s very important that the ICC expresses its concern that they are ready to intervene in Burundi,” Florent Geel, Africa director of the International Federation for Human Rights, told RFI. “The crimes committed in Burundi could change nature and become mass killings and ethnic cleansing very quickly.”

The violence in Burundi began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched his bid for a third term in power, leading to protests and a crackdown by security forces. In mid-May, a breakaway faction of the army launched an unsuccessful coup attempt.

More recently the killing of General Adolphe Nshimirimana and attempted murder of rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa have been seen as an escalation of the conflict.

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