BUJUMBURA -Â CIVIL society activists in Burundi are facing an “unacceptable” and escalating levels of harassment when they question the government, the UN said Tuesday.
Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders, said civil society activists and journalists face a “high number of cases of physical threats, anonymous phone calls, assaults, arbitrary arrests, and judicial harassment” ahead of elections next year.
Burundi, a small nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war, but its political climate remains fractious ahead of presidential polls in eight months’ time.
“They face serious obstacles that can amount to violations of their rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as their legitimate right to promote and protect human rights,” Forst told reporters at the end of a visit to the country.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, is expected to run for a third term in office despite opponents’ claims that that would violate Burundi’s constitution.
Forst singled out the arrest and detention earlier this year of human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and the “unfair disbarment” of Isidore Rufykiri, the president of the Bar.
The cases marked “an unacceptable escalation of the harassment of defenders by the state’s authorities,” Forst said.
Burundi’s last elections in 2010 were boycotted by most opposition parties, and Nkurunziza’s opponents are again accusing the ruling CNDD-FDD party of eliminating any dissent ahead of the next polls.
Rights groups have said the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, also has strong links to Burundi’s security service and is “perpetrating human rights abuses with impunity”. -Â Â Sapa-AFP