BURUNDI’S pro-government militia is keeping up a terror campaign that has sent waves of refugees fleeing across borders and claimed the lives of demonstrators and rights activists, the UN rights chief said Thursday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the Security Council that “militants from other groups are also employing violence” which he labeled a “new and disturbing development” in Burundi.
The central African country has been engulfed in turmoil over the president’s bid for a third term in office and international alarm has been growing over a return to war in Burundi.
UN officials have repeatedly called on President Pierre Nkurunziza to disarm the Imbonerakure militia, which Zeid said were responsible for many of the killings over the past two months.
The Imbonerakure, which means “those who see far”, are the ruling party’s youth wing, which is fiercely loyal to Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005.
Zeid said UN rights monitors have “documented dozens of killings in the past two months, most of them shootings of demonstrators and human rights defenders by members of the Imbonerakure militia and security forces.”
More than 145,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries in an exodus sparked “not by rumour, but by precise and targeted campaigns of intimidation and terror” by the militia, he said.
The Security Council was holding its eighth meeting on Burundi but has so far been unable to come up with a strong stance due to resistance from Russia and some African countries, which view the crisis as an internal matter.
Burundi is due to hold presidential elections on Tuesday, following parliamentary polls that UN observers said were neither free nor credible, with widespread intimidation and violence.
“Burundians appear to be braced for an explosion of the murderous violence that has so frequently engulfed the country,” said Zeid.
Burundi’s UN Ambassador Albert Shingiro told the council that supporters of a failed coup attempt in May were responsible for the violence in the country.
Parliamentary elections were “peaceful, calm and safe” and turnout was “strong, very strong in fact”, said the ambassador.
The envoy suggested that the presidential vote could be pushed back for a week, but that under the constitution, the election must be held before July 26.. .