Burundi 'in post-poll rights crackdown'

2010-11-23 13:37

Bujumbura - The Burundian authorities have stepped up repressive measures against civil society, the media and the political opposition since the last elections, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

"With the elections over, Burundi has a perfect opportunity to reach out to its critics and to work with them to build a more inclusive, rights-respecting state," said Rona Peligal, Africa director at the New York-based rights group.

"But instead we are seeing arrests of journalists and opposition party members, and harassment of civil society, crushing hopes that this could be a new beginning for Burundi."

Between May and September Burundi staged a series of polls, ranging from local to presidential. Most were boycotted by the opposition who accused the ruling party of rigging the vote.

The report, based on more than 100 interviews with opposition parties, activists, journalists, government officials, diplomats, and election monitors, is titled: "Closing Doors?: The Narrowing of Democratic Space in Burundi".

It documents abuses aimed at "silencing dissenting voices" and including torture, arbitrary arrests, harassment and banning of opposition activities.

Critical views

The government has prevented the main opposition group Alliance of Democrats for Change from carrying out its activities and has tried to infiltrate the main opposition National Liberation Forces (FNL) by encouraging dissident FNL members to set up splinter groups where government supporters play a role.

Journalists and activists who express critical views are labelled political opponents and subjected to arrests and threats, HRW said.

The rights group however acknowledged that Burundi has of late "shown some indications of openness", expressing willingness to engage in a dialogue with HRW for the first time since expelling the group's Burundi-based researcher in June, as the elections were getting under way.

It also has taken some steps toward establishing institutional mechanisms to ensure accountability for human rights abuses, the rights group said.