UN Rights Chief Reports Burundi Claims of Rape, Mass Graves

  • African nation hit by new `disturbing patterns of violations'
  • UN recorded 13 cases of alleged sexual violence in past month

The United Nations human-rights chief reported cases of alleged sexual violence by security forces in Burundi and called for an urgent investigation into claims of the existence of at least nine mass graves in the East African country.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein demanded an inquiry into events in the capital, Bujumbura, on Dec. 11-12, in which attacks on military camps were followed by “large-scale human-rights violations,” according to a statement published Friday on the UN’s website.

The UN documented 13 cases of sexual violence against women in the aftermath, al-Hussein said. “Security forces allegedly entered the victims’ houses, separated the women from their families, and raped -- in some cases gang-raped -- them,” he said.

Witnesses also reported mass graves in Bujumbura and its surroundings, including one at an army camp, that contained more than 100 bodies, all allegedly killed on Dec. 11, al-Hussein said. Government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe didn’t immediately answer phone calls seeking comment on the allegations.

More than eight months of bloodshed in Burundi have left at least 400 people dead and forced more than 200,000 others to flee the country. The unrest was triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s April decision to seek another term in office, which the opposition says violated the constitution.

MAP: Burundi
MAP: Burundi

The violence in Bujumbura in the middle of last month was the worst in the city since Burundi’s crisis began. The army said 87 people died in December’s events, including eight security officers and “enemies” who hid after the raids on three military camps.

The Paris-based Worldwide Movement for Human Rights and Ligue Iteka, a local group, later said at least 154 civilians were killed after sweeping arrests in parts of the city. Burundi’s authorities vowed to investigate the claims of civilian deaths.

Burundi holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves and is a member of the East African Community, a five-nation block with a combined gross domestic product of $147.5 billion.

A UN Security Council delegation is due to visit Burundi next week, government spokesman Nyamitwe said Thursday on his Twitter account. Nkurunziza’s administration earlier in January ruled out taking part in crisis talks in neighboring Tanzania because some of those invited were involved in an attempted coup last year.

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