UN human rights body to discuss Burundi violence

GENEVA - The UN's top human rights body opened an urgent special session Thursday to take up the rising violence in Burundi, with the U.S.

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leading a diplomatic push aiming to deploy a mission of experts and launch an investigation of abuses.

At least 87 people were killed on Dec. 11 in attacks on military facilities in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. Just weeks ago, the African country was elected as a member of the 47-member Human Rights Council based in Geneva. UN officials have expressed fears that the African country is headed toward civil war.

Burundi has been in turmoil since the April announcement that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office, which he won in a disputed election in July.

The UN human rights chief, speaking to the council, cited new UN figures that at least 400 people have been killed since April 26, and nearly 3,500 arrested in the political crisis. He said at least 220,000 people have fled the country.

"The events of last week confirmed the extent to which violence and intimidation are catapulting the country back to the past - to Burundi's deeply troubled, dark and horrendously violent past," High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said. "The time for piecemeal responses and fiddling around the edges is over."

Zeid called for border controls, a government effort to disarm pro-government militias, efforts to stop the flow of weapons into Burundi, and consideration of "the use of drones" as one way to help monitor frontiers.

Elisa Nkerabirori, a representative of Burundi's Human Rights Ministry, spoke on her government's behalf. She said the session was called in "haste" and that her government had sought a delay to avoid a schedule conflict with a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Kenya that has drawn many African diplomats.

She said her government praised the "professionalism" of police and security forces to protect innocent civilians

UN officials say the main sticking points in a draft resolution that would authorize the deployment of experts centre on how quickly an investigative team could be sent in and when it would report back to the Human Rights Council.

The text was expected to be voted on and approved later Thursday. It stops short of a full-fledged commission of inquiry, the highest level of investigation that the panel can authorize.

African Union nations, meanwhile, have appeared reticent. Only one African country, Ghana, publicly signed onto the U.S.-led push for the special session backed by dozens of Western and other countries. The AU is carrying out a fact-finding mission in Burundi.

UN officials fear the violence in Burundi could take an ethnic turn in a country with a large Hutu majority and Tutsi minority - like neighbouring Rwanda.


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