UN rights chief blasts Burundi for ‘belligerent and defamatory’ attack on inquiry team

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. [UN Photo]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Thursday blasted the Burundi government for its response to a report by the agency’s Commission of Inquiry, tasked with investigating human rights violations and abuses there.

Bachelet denounced comments made by Burundi’s ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, terming them “deeply regrettable in both tone and substance.”

On Wednesday, Shingiro attacked the independent international inquiry team, threatening to prosecute its members and compared Commission Chair, Doudou Diène, to a participant in the slave trade.

“Burundi’s belligerent and defamatory response to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, and its repeated and wholly unsupported assertions that the commission was the puppet of mysterious external forces […] are reprehensible,”Bachelet said in a statement.

In the statement, Ms. Bachelet also called on Burundi, as a UN Member State, to “show respect” to its institutions and the various bodies, laws and mechanisms it has established. Burundi is also a current member of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

“I urge the Government of Burundi to issue an immediate retraction of this inflammatory statement and to offer a full apology to Mr. Diène and the other Commissioners, as well as to the Human Rights Council, which created the Commission, and its President who selected and appointed the three Commissioners,” she said.

The Commission of Inquiry was established in 2016 to probe alleged human rights abuses and violations in Burundi since 2015, and identify perpetrators with a view to ensuring full accountability.

Burundi descended into chaos in April 2015 following a declaration by President Pierre Nkurunziza that he would run for a controversial third term in office, one which he went on to win in the July 2015 polls.

Hundreds were killed as government forces clashed with protesters, with thousands forced to flee their homes.

Peace talks have however been going on in neighboring Tanzania to end the political crisis, though the government boycotted the latest round of talks.

President Nkurunziza announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election in the next presidential election in 2020.