JOHANNESBURG – A United Nations commission of inquiry on Burundi says it is “extremely concerned" that new President Evariste Ndayishimiye has appointed senior officials who face international sanctions for alleged human rights abuses in the country’s 2015 political turmoil.
In a report released Thursday, the commission also said that targeted killings, intimidation and sexual assaults of both men and women were committed against opposition supporters ahead of the disputed May election in the East African nation.
It said children were forced to take part in ruling party meetings and even forced to vote by officials “who gave them the voting cards of deceased or exiled voters.”
Some of the abuses may constitute crimes against humanity, the report said, describing the main perpetrators as the Imbonerakure youth wing of the ruling party, police and agents of the National Intelligence Service. “They have continued to enjoy nearly total impunity,” it said.
The report singled out the sexual assaults as a common “intelligence-gathering tool” by authorities, often during detention, the pain of which is compounded by trauma related to “deeply held cultural taboos.”
President-elect Ndayishimiye was rushed into office after President Pierre Nkurunziza died in June of what the government called a heart attack. Nkurunziza led Burundi for 15 years, a rule that exploded in deadly violence in 2015 when he decided to run for a third term that critics called unconstitutional.
The abuses that followed drew international condemnation and led Burundi to leave the International Criminal Court and kick out the U.N. human rights office. An ICC investigation continues, however.
Ministers appointed by Ndayishimiye who face international sanctions are Prime Minister Alain Guillaume Bunyoni and security minister Gervais Ndirakobuca.
The U.N. commission of inquiry said Burundi’s government has not responded to its correspondence.
Burundi's new minister for human rights, Imelde Sabushimike, told The Associated Press that the government cannot comment on a report it hasn't seen. In the past, the government has denounced such reports as aimed at tarnishing the country's image.
The report found that Ndayishimiye appears to be taking the coronavirus pandemic more seriously than his predecessor, who declared that Burundi had divine protection. But it said the new president has shown little sign of reopening democratic space or protecting civil liberties. It called for the immediate release of human rights activists, political prisoners and journalists who were arbitrarily detained.
Burundi also has been weakened by widespread corruption, the report said, noting that the average length of schooling is just over three years and less than 5% of the population has access to electricity.
The report calls on Burundi’s government to resume full cooperation with the World Health Organization, whose top official in the country was kicked out shortly before the election after concerns were raised about the health risks of large campaign rallies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report says the pandemic has limited its investigative work into other alleged abuses in Burundi. It relied on more than 300 interviews, more than 1,000 testimonials and visits to neighboring countries.
Kaneza reported from Nairobi, Kenya.