UN investigators have accused Burundi’s government of crimes against humanity, including executions and torture, and urged the International Criminal Court to open a case ‘as soon as possible’.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said it had ‘reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi’, pointing a finger at ‘the highest level of the state’.
The three investigators, appointed by the Human Rights Council last September, described a ‘climate of fear’ in the crisis-hit east African country. The report detailed widespread and systematic abuses including extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, torture and sexual violence.
“We are struck by the scale and the brutality of the violations,” commission president Fatsah Ouguergouz said in a statement.
Decrying impunity in Burundi and the ‘strong likelihood that the perpetrators of these crimes will remain unpunished’, the investigators asked ‘the International Criminal Court to open an investigation … as soon as possible’. Burundi formally announced that it was withdrawing from the court, with the move set to take effect on October 27.
Burundi was thrown into a political crisis in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term that his opponents said was unconstitutional. He won elections in July that year which were boycotted by the opposition.
Between 500 and 2,000 people have been killed in clashes in the country, according to UN and NGO sources. More than 400,000 people have fled and dozens of opposition activists have been forced into exile.
In its report published today, the commission put blame for the likely crimes against humanity in Burundi at ‘the highest level of the state’.
The perpetrators included members of Burundi’s National Intelligence Service, including high-ranking officers, the national police, military officials and members of the ruling party’s youth league, the Imbonerakure, investigators said.
Nkurunziza himself, surrounded by a close-knit circle of ‘generals’, was behind ‘big decisions, including ones that led to serious human rights violations’, it said.
Armed opposition groups were also responsible for rights violations in Burundi, the report said, noting that these abuses had been more difficult to document.