The United Nations today called on the Government of Burundi to address ongoing political violence and restrictions on human rights, saying it is receiving "troubling" information about recent developments in the country.
"The United Nations ... has been raising concerns both with the Government of Burundi and at the highest levels in the region and the greater international community," UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
The small African country - where hundreds of thousands of people have perished in largely inter-ethnic fighting between Hutus and Tutsis - has recently been witnessing bouts of political violence and growing restrictions on certain fundamental freedoms.
In a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman drew attention to the restrictions on political rights and freedoms, and the violence mainly by the youth wing of the current ruling party (CNDD-FDD), including reports about alleged efforts to arm and train the youth wing.
"We are stressing that if no action is taken and serious human rights violations occur, those responsible for manipulating the youth affiliated to political parties and instigating violence would be liable for international prosecution," said Mr. Dujarric.
"In light of Burundi's past, we trust that the Government of Burundi will thoroughly and promptly address the ongoing political violence and restrictions to human rights ... This is a concern that is shared by many in the international community and we trust that the Government of Burundi will take this matter seriously."
He added that as the country prepares for 2015 elections, "we hope for steps that would demonstrate a genuine commitment to political pluralism and the democratic process."
The spokesperson noted that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has discussed the political situation in Burundi with the country's President and First Vice-President, as well as with political leaders in the region, including the Presidents of South Africa and Tanzania.
Later in the day, the members of the Security Council echoed these concerns in a statement to the press which noted political tensions in Burundi as well as continued restrictions on the press and on civil liberties, including limitations on the freedoms of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly, including for members of opposition political parties, and for media and civil society organizations, especially in the run up to the elections.
They condemned any recourse to violence, and expressed their concern for the reported acts of intimidation, harassment and violence committed by youth groups in Burundi.
They recalled the urgent need for the Government of Burundi to address impunity, while respecting the right of due process, and for all the political parties to publicly condemn all political violence and acts of incitement to hatred or violence, in line with the Constitution of Burundi and the Arusha Agreement.
Further to the statement, the Council encouraged efforts by the Government to ensure a space for all political parties and to continue to improve dialogue between all relevant actors, including civil society, with a view towards ensuring a conducive, free and open environment in the run up to the elections.
Several special envoys for the Great Lakes have also recently voiced the same concerns to the Government. Today the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, is in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, on a long-scheduled visit, and he will follow up with the Government on these concerns.