UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has demanded an investigation into reports from the African nation of Burundi of the discovery of mass graves with hundreds of bodies and soldiers gang-raping women.
“We have 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 neighbourhoods perceived as supportive of the opposition,” he explained.
“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.”
Reports claim investigators have found nine mass graves with 100 bodies, “including one on a Burundi army base.” Others told Zeid there have been cases of kidnappings and secret detention centers.
“My office is analyzing satellite images in an effort to shed more light on these extremely serious allegations,” he continued.
The UN began documenting abuses there in December after rebels attacked three military camps in Bujumbura, the capital, in December. The clashes killed 87 people, including numerous people killed execution style with their hands tied behind their backs. Security forces arrested “many young men.” The Imbonerakure, “the armed militia of the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth wing,” took the men away to torture and kill them.
“Despite these allegations of large-scale arrests, my office is finding that only a small proportion of them appear to be in official places of detention,” said Zeid. “The increasing number of enforced disappearances, coupled with allegations of secret detention facilities and mass graves, is extremely alarming.”
Protests erupted in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term. The move violated the country’s constitution and the 2006 peace accord, which ended the 12-year civil war.
In May, Major General Godefroid Niyombare announced he dismissed Nkurunziza, who was in Tanzania, because his intentions violated the constitution. Crowds celebrated in the street, and Reuters reported “sporadic gunfire” in the capital.
The coup failed, even though rebels took control of the airport and did not allow the president to land. Loyalists fought off the rebels to keep control of the state radio station. Army Chief of Staff General Prime Niyongabo said the forces still controlled “all strategic points.”
State radio reported on Friday that a court sentenced former Burundi Defense Minister Cyrille Ndayirukiye and three generals to life in prison over the coup in May. Reuters added that no information had surfaced about Niyombare’s fate, but one general “has said he was still alive and still leading a rebellion.”
Zeid warned the world that the violence in 2015 means Burundi is in danger of returning “to the carnage of the past.”
“There is rampant impunity for all the human rights violations being committed by security forces and the Imbonerakure, despite ample evidence that they are responsible for more and more serious crimes,” he concluded.
“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, and the potentially lethal ethnic dimension starting to rear its head, this will inevitably end in disaster if the current rapidly deteriorating trajectory continues,” he added.
The violence forced the State Department to issue travel warnings to Burundi. Officials recommended all citizens “depart as soon as possible” along with “dependents of all U.S. government personnel and nonemergency government personnel.”
“The United States is deeply alarmed by the attacks that occurred overnight and continue in Bujumbura. We condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms, and we call on all sides to refrain immediately from violence,” stated the department.