Zeid Al’Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has accused Burundi security forces of sexual violence, sharp increase in enforced disappearances and torture cases.
He made the announcement while in New York, that there was an urgent need for investigation into the events that took place in Bujumbura, December 11 and December 12, including the reported existence of at least nine mass graves.
Al’Hussein said the December 11 attacks against three military camps and the large-scale human rights violations that occurred in their immediate aftermath appeared to have triggered new and extremely disturbing patterns of violations.
He said the agency had documented 13 cases of sexual violence against women, which began during the search and arrest operations that took place after the December events in the neighborhoods perceived as supportive of the opposition.
“The pattern was similar in all cases: security forces allegedly entered the victims’ houses, separated the women from their families, and raped, in some cases gang-raped them” Al’ Hussein said. He also said that new cases of sexual violence have continued to emerge since mid-December, including the reported rape of five women in a single house during a search operation in Bujumbura Mairie province.
“The police and army arrested considerable numbers of young men, many of whom were later tortured, killed or taken to unknown destinations. Members of the Imbonerakure militia reportedly took part in these operations,” he said.
He, however, said in spite of the allegations of large-scale arrests, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was reportedly finding that only a small proportion of them appear to be in official places of detention. Al’Hussein warned that the increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves was extremely alarming.
The High Commissioner said that numerous witnesses revealed that many dead bodies were taken to unknown locations from the neighborhoods where the search operations took place. He added that witnesses had reported the existence of at least nine mass graves in Bujumbura and its surroundings, including one in a military camp.
According to OHCHR, it was reported in some cases that members of the Imbonerakure forced people to dig the graves, either under threat of being killed themselves or with the promise that they would be paid.
“It is also reported that some of these grave-diggers were indeed subsequently executed”.
“My Office is analyzing satellite images in an effort to shed more light on these extremely serious allegations.
“All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red,” he said.
Al’Hussein said the information gathered from inhabitants of various neighborhoods, said some of the victims of human rights violations during the search operations that followed the December 11 events were targeted because they were Tutsis.
He said the information further showed that in Bujumbura’s Nyakabiga neighborhood, that Tutsis were systematically killed, while Hutus were spared.
The High Commissioner said he welcomed the Ministry of Justice’s recent request to the General Prosecutor of Bujumbura Mairie to investigate the allegations of mass graves.
“However, it is now abundantly clear that we also urgently need an independent, thorough, credible and impartial investigation, and that the alleged grave sites need to be safeguarded. The High Commissioner also stressed the importance of ensuring that family members of people who have been arrested, forcibly disappeared or extrajudicially executed are informed of the whereabouts of their loved ones.
He noted that the reported increasing use of torture and ill-treatment was also of serious concern.
“The number of torture cases almost tripled in the space of a month,” he said, citing 29 cases of torture and 42 cases of ill-treatment documented in December.
The agency said that members of the Service national de renseignements and the national police were responsible for most cases, with victims allegedly often forced to confess that they belong to, or intend to join, an armed group. Al’Hussein said there was rampant impunity and human rights violations being committed by security forces and the Imbonerakure.
“This is an indication that a complete breakdown in law and order is just around the corner and, with armed opposition groups also becoming more active.
“The potentially lethal ethnic dimension starting to rear its head, this will inevitably end in disaster if the current rapidly deteriorating trajectory continues,” he said.
Source: NAN SH/FHO/YAZ