UN says Burundi still torturing and killing opponents

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Nairobi- Burundi security forces and government-allied militia are continuing to torture and kill opponents, UN investigators said on Thursday, allegations denied by the government.

The investigators from the UN's Commission of Inquiry on Burundi have been denied entry to the country said there was a "feeling of deep and widespread fear" in more than 470 testimonies gathered from people who had fled to neighbouring countries.

"Today we can say that our initial fears concerning the scope and gravity of human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015 have been confirmed," the investigators said in a briefing to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.

Burundi's government angrily rejected the allegations. "We do not accept the content of this report," said the country's human rights minister Martin Nivyabandi.

"This report had only one objective, to send certain senior Burundian officials to The Hague," where the International Criminal Court (ICC) is headquartered, "and to exclude Burundi as a member of the Human Rights Council," he said, demanding the UN, "respect the sovereignty of Burundi."

Burundi was thrown into a political crisis in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a third term that his opponents said was unconstitutional.

Since then at least 500 people have been killed while over 400 000 have fled the country.

The commission of inquiry, established in September 2016, is tasked with concluding whether any should be held accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity.

The investigators said on Thursday that both state security agencies and the ruling party youth wing, the Imbonerakure which is considered a militia by the UN, were engaged in torture, rape, disappearances and murder "fuelled by hate speech" from officials.

"We were struck by the particularly cruel and brutal nature of the violations described to us," the investigators said, citing the use of clubs, rifle butts, bayonets, iron bars, metal chains, electric cables, needles, pliers to rip out nails, burns and violent abuse of especially male genitals.

They also bemoaned the "total impunity" enjoyed by perpetrators in Burundi.

The commission's final report is due to be presented to the Human Rights Council in September.

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