20 April 2017

East Africa: UN Rights Chief Alarmed By Rape Chants in Burundi

Photo: The Citizen
Soldiers stand near protesters (file photo).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has expressed outrage at an apparent widespread pattern of rallies in several provinces across Burundi, where young men from the Imbonerakure militia - the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD political party - repeatedly chant a call to impregnate or kill opponents.

According to a UN statement released Tuesday, High Commissioner Zeid said the organised nature of the marches, coupled with reports of ongoing serious human rights violations, lay bare the "campaign of terror" being waged in Burundi.

"The grotesque rape chants by the young men of the Imbonerakure across several provinces in various parts of Burundi are deeply alarming - particularly because they confirm what we have been hearing from those who have fled Burundi about a campaign of fear and terror by this organised militia," Zeid said.

The statement cites "a chilling video" circulating on social media showing more than 100 members of the Imbonerakure repeating dozens of times their call to "make opponents pregnant so that they can give birth to Imbonerakure."

Another group then repeats a chant in which the phrase "he or she should die" is audible some 19 times, in a rally that reportedly took place in Ntega commune, Kirundo province, in the country's northeast.

According to the UN, following the release of the video, on April 5, the CNDD-FDD issued a statement condemning the chanting and stating that a preliminary enquiry has found that there were "influences outside the party."

"While I welcome the statement by the CNDD-FDD condemning the chants in Ntega, reports that senior officials were present at other rallies are very disturbing. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that the Ntega rally was not an isolated incident, but rather the tip of the iceberg, brought to light only because it was captured on camera." The condemnation is meaningless if, instead of a putting a stop to such events, senior government officials continue to take part in such rallies," Zeid said.

"Similar, larger rallies have been organised across the country by officials from the government and the President's party. On April 1 in the northern province of Kayanza, around 2,500 Imbonerakure reportedly marched from Kayanza football stadium along the main road chanting similar slogans, inciting rape and violence against opponents. Reports suggest that senior officials were present at this rally, the UN statement says. Reports also suggest, it adds, that similar chanting occurs regularly at weekly Imbonerakure meetings in the southern province of Makamba.

On April 7, the President of the Burundi Senate is alleged to have incited people to violence in Makamba, reportedly calling for all suspected rebels to be "silently collected." This is reported as the latest of many such speeches where the President of the Senate has reportedly used coded language, with its roots in the mass violence from Burundi's past, to incite followers to violence.

Furthermore, on April 8, following the inauguration of a CNDD-FDD party office in the eastern province of Ruyigi, it is noted that about 200 people, including Imbonerakure, began chanting for the rape of opponents so that more Imbonerakure would be born. They were reportedly instructed by party officials to stop.

Zeid said: "The Government needs to stop pretending that the Imbonerakure are nothing but a community development group. Such blatant and brazen hate speech and incitement to violence must not be tolerated, nor encouraged."

"Reports indicate a major increase in cases of enforced disappearance between November 2016 and March 2017, as well as the discovery of dozens of unidentified bodies in various parts of the country during that time. We have also received numerous reports alleging that people are being targeted due to their ethnicity." Between April 2015 and April 19 this year, UN figures indicate that 401,573 people have fled Burundi.

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