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Burundi/UN: Rights Commissioner Raises Issue of Extrajudicial Killings

(Oct. 5, 2015) On September 28, 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, commented on “an alarming upsurge in arrests, detention and killings” in Burundi since the beginning of September of this year.

Almost every day, dead bodies are found lying on the streets of some of Bujumbura’s [the capital city’s] neighbourhoods. In many cases, the victims appear to have been killed by a bullet fired at close range. The bodies sometimes show signs of torture and are typically found with their hands tied behind their backs. …  Reports suggest that many of these people had been arrested by the police or by the National Intelligence Agency (SNR) prior to their deaths. This succession of unexplained killings, and the widespread perception that they may be linked to State institutions, is instilling a deep sense of fear within the population, especially in neighbourhoods known to be supportive of the opposition. (Press Release, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR], Zeid Alarmed by Recent Upsurge in Arrests, Detention and Killings in Burundi, OHCHR website (Sept. 28, 2015).)

Zeid noted that young people appear to be particular targets and further warned that because crimes such as extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests and detentions have not been punished, the country may be headed “back to its bloody past.” (Id.) He also said that there were documented cases of attacks on both opposition members and government supporters and that the prisons were overcrowded, with deteriorating conditions, due to the number of people detained. (Id.)

There has been unrest in Burundi since April of this year, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his plan to seek a third term. (Brittany Felder, UN Rights Chief Concerned About ‘Unexplained Killings’ in Burundi, PAPER CHASE (Sept. 28, 2015).) Those opposed to this move argued that a third term would violate both Burundi’s Constitution and the Arusha peace accord that ended the country’s civil war. (Constance Johnson, Burundi: Court Permits Third Bid for Presidency, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 7, 2015); Burundi’s Constitution of 2005, CONSTITUTION PROJECT; Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi (Aug. 28, 2000), Institute for Security Studies Africa website.)

On May 5, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunziza could run again. He was reelected in July, and domestic protests against him and international criticism of his election have continued. (Felder, supra; Johnson, supra.)