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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

UN reports gang-rapes by security forces, claims of mass graves in Burundi

Protesters drag a female police officer accused of shooting a protestor in the Buterere neighbourhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, May 12, 2015. Photo/REUTERS
Protesters drag a female police officer accused of shooting a protestor in the Buterere neighbourhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, May 12, 2015. Photo/REUTERS

The United Nations has documented cases of Burundi's security forces gang-raping women during searches of opposition supporters' houses and heard witness testimony of mass graves, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said on Friday.

Violence has worsened in Burundi since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term - a move opponents say was illegal - and won a disputed election in July. At least 439 people have been killed and 200,000 have fled.

Western powers and African states fear the crisis that has so far largely followed political allegiances could spiral into a renewed ethnic conflict.

Burundi's 12-year civil war, which ended in 2005, pitted an army led by the Tutsi minority against rebel groups of the Hutu majority.

"The 11 December attacks against three military camps and the large-scale human rights violations that occurred in their immediate aftermath appear to have triggered new and extremely disturbing patterns of violations," Zeid said in a statement.

"All the alarm signals, including the increasing ethnic dimension of the crisis, are flashing red," he said.

Zeid said the United Nations had documented 13 cases of sexual violence with a pattern of security forces allegedly entering the victims' houses, separating the women and raping or gang-raping them.

During the searches, police, army and Imbonerakure militia forces also arrested many young men who were later tortured, killed or taken to unknown destinations, Zeid said.

The United Nations is also analysing satellite images to investigate witness reports of at least nine mass graves in and around Bujumbura, including one in a military camp, containing more than 100 bodies in total, all of them reportedly killed on December 11, 2015.

One of the sexually abused women testified that her abuser told her she was paying the price for being a Tutsi. Another witness said Tutsis were being systematically killed, while Hutus were being spared.

"And, in the Muramvya neighbourhood, the decision to arrest people was also reportedly largely made on an ethnic basis, with most Hutus being released, according to several different witnesses," the statement said.

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