The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said Wednesday that the country, following years of political turmoil, was primed for a genocide.
The commission's warning, contained in its latest report on human rights in Burundi, was based on an analysis developed by the U.N. Office for the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect.
The three-member panel found that eight common risk factors for criminal atrocities leading to a possible genocide were present in Burundi.
Factors included an unstable political, economic and social environment; a climate of impunity for human rights violations; a weak judicial system; and the absence of an independent press and freedom of expression.
Commission member Francoise Hampson said the criteria identified by the Genocide Prevention Committee indicated that in countries where these factors were present, there was a risk the situation could deteriorate.
"On top of that, our own report shows the continuation of violations of human rights law based on human security,” she said. “So, things like arbitrary killings, torture, arbitrary detention. And this year, a deterioration … freedom of expression, freedom of association. Now that is actually already getting worse compared to last year."
Burundi has been in turmoil since President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term in 2015, defying critics who said he was violating constitutional term limits. Violence prompted more than 300,000 to flee the country.
Hampson said the crisis in Burundi was essentially a political one. She noted that targeting people because of their political affiliation does not come within the definition of genocide, according to the Genocide Conventions.
However, she said, “There are elements on occasion where there is an ethnic dimension. There are sometimes taunts of people in detention. And, there have in the past been the chants of the Imbonerakure [the youth wing of the ruling party] when they have been gathering, which have got hateful content."
The U.N. report documented widespread human rights violations by the Imbonerakure, including intimidation and harassment of political opponents, activists, journalists and human rights defenders.
After the report's release on Wednesday, Willy Nyamitwe, a senior adviser to Nkurunziza, tweeted a message that said, "Burundi is no longer interested in responding to lies and manipulation of opinion on the part of some Westerners whose aim is to destabilize Burundi."