UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Burundi is gripped by terror amid continued human rights abuses and the small central African state is on the brink of a sudden escalation of violence to “massive proportions,” the United Nations human rights chief told the Security Council on Friday.
Burundi has been embroiled in political violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza said last April he would seek a third term, which his opponents said was illegal. At least 439 people have been killed and more than 250,000 have fled.
U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that despite some progress, including the release of some detainees, the reopening of an independent radio station and government cooperation with independent rights experts, serious violations continue.
He said there was no indication of a decline in reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions and there was an increase in reports of torture and ill-treatment.
“Continued human rights violations and impunity for perpetrators mean that many of Burundi’s people live in terror,” Zeid said. “The country remains on the brink of a sudden escalation of violence to even more massive proportions.”
In January, the 15-member Security Council made its second visit to the landlocked state in less than a year, where fears of an ethnic war have also led to an economic crisis. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also visited in February.
“I expressed by profound worry that the potential spiralling of violence risks relapse into civil war,” Ban told the Security Council on Friday. “I urged the government to take measures to address the continued violence and the impunity that fuels it.”
Zeid urged the Security Council to persuade the Burundi government “to take significant steps towards real reconciliation and inclusive national dialogue.”
The United Nations is under growing pressure to show it can halt the bloodshed in Burundi, more than two decades after the 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the Hutu majority in neighbouring Rwanda. Rwanda and Burundi have a similar ethnic make-up.
“The international community must shift its approach from a focus on crisis response to a culture of early action and prevention,” Ban said.
The European Union said on Monday it had suspended direct financial support for the Burundian government after concluding it had not done enough to find a political solution.
The economy of Burundi, which relies heavily on aid and on exports of tea and coffee, shrank by an estimated 7.2 percent last year.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish