UN aid agencies warn the growing standoff between protesters and the Burundian government over upcoming presidential elections may results in the country descending into chaos and possibly civil war.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said it’s worried about increasingly repressive measures being taken by Burundi's government to stifle political dissent. Spokesman Rupert Colville pointed to a series of actions taken by authorities which he said seriously curtail people’s rights to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly.
“Hundreds of people have also allegedly been detained since the demonstrations began last Sunday,” he said. “And according to one credible report, over 400 individuals are being held in extremely overcrowded conditions, with detainees actually having to sleep standing up, it is so crowded.
"Detainees have also been beaten allegedly particularly on their feet and buttocks. And some of those who have been released have had trouble walking as a result of those beatings.”
The International Red Cross reports at least six people have been killed in demonstrations following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement last week that he plans to run for another term. Opponents say this is unconstitutional and violates the 2000 Arusha agreement, which limits presidents in Burundi to two terms.
Colville said High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at the end of his visit to Burundi a couple of weeks ago, essentially issued an early warning about the dangers of enflaming tensions as the elections approach. He told VOA the high commissioner was particularly concerned about the militia wing of the ruling party's Imbonerakure youth group.
“The activities of that militia have been leading, according to refugees in Rwanda, arriving in Rwanda, one of the principal reasons why they have been fleeing across the border,” Colville said. “So, you already have got a refugee movement taking place. You have got a country with a terrible history… At the time we were there anyway the ethnic element was not really an issue. But, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to say it could come once again and that would be too awful for words.”
More than 300,000 people died in Burundi’s decade-long civil war between 1995 and 2005.
The latest update by the UN refugee agency finds more than 26,000 people have fled Burundi because of violence linked to the elections. It said Rwanda is hosting more than 21,000 refugees and thousands of others are heading for Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo.