About 13 cases of forceful gang rape have been recorded in Burundi since the beginning of December, according to the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. In a statement released on Friday, he also said there has been a sharp rise in the rate of killings in December and witnesses have reported the existence of nine mass grave sites. Burundi has been torn apart by violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term. Violence has continued since he won the elections.
Fresh allegations of human rights abuses in Burundi is alarming. About 350 people have been killed in politically- motivated violence since April 2015, according to a report by Amnesty International and other national human rights monitors.
Gang rapes and mass graves
While speaking about gang rape as a new and disturbing pattern of violation, Zeid Al Hussein said that: “The pattern was similar in all cases: security forces allegedly entered the victims’ houses, separated the women from their families, and raped – in some cases gang-raped – them,”
Eye witness reports have alleged that some members of the ruling party, CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy –Forces for the Defense of Democracy) known as Imbonerakure alongside the police and army forces arrested several young men. They were later taken to unknown destinations, while some were tortured and killed. The Imbonerakure also reportedly force people to dig graves (out of which nine had been found, according to eye-witnesses) after which they were executed. Over 100 bodies have been found in these mass graves according to the UN.
The government’s reaction to the human rights violation report
The spokesman for President Nkurunziza, Gervais Abayeho, dismissed the claims of the UN Commissioner in an interview with the local radio on Friday. He insisted that it is just a few neighborhoods that were affected in Bujumbura (the capital of Burundi).
According to Abayeho “These are reports which to us are unwarranted, baseless and which have not been substantiated. We call on everybody who would like to visit Burundi to come to see the situation first hand on the ground; see that these claims are false.” While he agreed that Burundi has been a hotbed of violence in the past year, he said the rest of the world is carrying a propaganda against the country.
Conflict between the Hutus and the Tutsis?
Witnesses have alleged that Tutsis are the major targets of the rape and killing incidents. In his statement, Zeid suggests that ”an ethnic dimension is now starting to emerge, is reinforced by one of the sexually abused women who said that her abuser told her she was paying the price for being a Tutsi.”
The way forward
With the number of people that have left Burundi to seek refuge in other neighboring countries, the need to find a lasting solution to the incessant violence in the country is pressing. This is the time for Uganda to meet with its neighboring countries alongside the African Union, the United Nations and other international organizations in order to proffer and implement a concrete resolution plan.