Two Dead in Burundi After Clashes With Police as NGOs Suspended

  • Civil society has been significantly weakened, UN Says
  • Rights advocates have been killed, fled East African country

Burundi’s police clashed with an armed group in the capital and two people died as the government suspended 10 non-governmental organizations, adding to tensions in the East African nation.

Security officers were patrolling the Nyakabiga district when the fighting broke out late Tuesday, deputy police spokesman Moise Nkurunziza told reporters.

The neighborhood is one of the places demonstrations erupted in April after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term, which he secured in July elections. Critics say he violated a two-term limit set out in a 2005 peace accord, which ended a 12-year war that left 300,000 people dead.

The recent crisis has spread, with at least 240 people killed in sporadic violence and more than 200,000 others having fled across the border to neighboring countries. Burundi holds about 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves.

The Burundian prosecutor’s office last week ordered banks to cancel the accounts of 10 NGOs, of which several focused on the issues of human rights and peace, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday. It follows the suspension of five media outlets in June, which are still blocked from operating, said Al Hussein.

Silence Dissent

"The suspension appears to be an attempt by Burundian authorities to silence dissenting voices and to limit the democratic space," the high commissioner said.

Fifteen heads of NGOs have fled the country after facing threats against themselves and family members -- of which seven led organizations that were barred on Nov. 19. Four workers in the sector have been killed, two by police and two by unidentified attackers, according to the statement. Civil society in the East African country has been "significantly weakened" since the start of the crisis seven months ago, Al Hussein said.

The suspended organizations include the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, led by Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, an outspoken government critic. Mbonimpa survived an assassination attempt in August, while his son was killed this month and his son-in-law was murdered in October.

The U.S. has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Burundi’s security minister, a senior police official and two people who led a failed coup in May. Burundi government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe said the sanctions are based on false information.

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