With the possibility of the violence in Burundi escalating into a civil war, African Union rights investigators are fearing for the worst.
A team from the AU-backed African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights that was in Burundi from December 7 to 13 paints a scary picture of the Eastern African state that was ravaged by civil war between 1993 and 2005.
“The situation of violence is of great concern. We received reports of human rights violations and other abuses, including arbitrary killings and targeted assassinations, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, arbitrary suspension and closure of some civil society organisations and the media,” the commission said in a statement.
“Of equal concern are reports of people being forced to flee from their homes and the continuing flow of refugees, as well as social services such as schools and hospitals being seriously affected.”
Last Friday in Bujumbura, the investigators witnessed explosions and gunfire amid attacks on three military installations.
GENESIS OF BURUNDI CRISIS
Burundi’s crisis began in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a controversial third term, which he went on to win in July amid bloody protests.
Hundreds of people have since died, including 87 on Friday and Saturday alone, and more than 200,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.
The AU investigators say the crisis cannot be solved through violence.
According to UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Burundi could slide back to civil war.
But war is not a stranger to the land. Conflict began after first multi-party elections following independence from Belgium in 1962.
The Burundi government has defended the response of its security forces to Friday’s insurgent attacks on military bases which left almost 100 people dead.
On Tuesday, UN human rights chief Hussein said the security forces could have carried out summary executions, arrests and house-to-house raids following the attacks.
But a government statement said: “Security forces intervened with the greatest possible professionalism.”
UN NOT READY TO DEPLOY PEACEKEEPERS
The government has also dismissed calls for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to the country.
“Those who recommend it hide many other intentions,” a statement from it reads.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council last month that Burundi was on the brink of civil war but added that there was no immediate need to deploy a peacekeeping force, thus encouraging the council to weigh other options.
The Friday attacks were the first on military bases, signalling a change in tactics from the rebel groups.
Even during the May attempted coup, military bases remained untouched.
Since then, there has been a gradual escalation in the violence in Bujumbura with guns replacing protesters’ placards.
Grenades had been hurled at police patrols, but now military installations are fair game.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Previously, the military acknowledged that a number of soldiers had deserted and there are suspicions that they might have joined the insurgents.
A group of Kenyan MPs have asked East African leaders to speak out on the bloodshed in Burundi.
They have formed a caucus to mobilise support for mediation and accuse East African presidents of sitting on the fence while Burundi burns.
Friends of Burundi, as their caucus is called, has seven members from across the political divide and seeks international support to broker peace in Burundi.
Budalangi MP Ababu Namwamba, who chairs the caucus, says he initiated the group following consultations with Kenya’s ambassador to Burundi Ken Vitisia after the MPs’ two-week visit to Bujumbura and Kigali.
“Everyone is afraid to take a firm position and offer a solution, however, painful it might be. No one is even telling the truth about that situation in the country but Friends of Burundi is one solid step into the matter,” said Mr Namwamba.