NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Burundi is experiencing a rise in torture and enforced disappearances in “a clear pattern” of abuses that undermines limited rights improvements under President Evariste Ndayishimiye, according to a group of independent researchers.
Members of the national intelligence service as well as the police are accused of torture, killings and enforced disappearances, the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, an independent project that monitors rights abuses in the central African country, said in a new report Thursday.
Perpetrators are free “to track down any suspected opponents they view as a threat and do with them as they please,” the report said.
“Since mid-2021, Burundi’s approach to human rights has taken a concerning turn for the worse,” the report said. “Following a series of armed attacks and ambushes between April and September 2021, government officials accused political opponents of collaborating with armed groups and abducted or arrested dozens of them.”
Abuses are taking place despite the government’s “diplomatic language of peace and security,” including assurances by Ndayishimiye that the rights situation in his country was improving, the report said.
Ndayishimiye was elected president in May 2020 following the death of former leader Pierre Nkurunziza. Human rights groups have urged him to leave the repressive ways of his predecessor behind.
Government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye didn’t answer calls seeking comment.
Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Ndayishimiye asserted that his government “has focused on the protection of human rights, respect for democratic principles, freedoms of expression and opinion.”
But some disagree.
Aime Magera, a Burundian opposition politician exiled in Brussels, called the president’s speech an “aberration,” charging that ”opponents are killed, tortured to disappear, arbitrary arrested and imprisoned” by agents of the state.
The report by the Burundi Human Rights Initiative said abuses appear to have increased in recent months, with more than 20 publicly reported disappearances since July.
Detainees often ended up at the intelligence headquarters in Bujumbura, the largest city, “where some were tortured until the pain was so intense that they said anything to make it stop.”
While some detainees were eventually released, others “have not been heard from again,” the report said.
Others have raised similar alarms.
A recent report by SOS Medias Burundi, an independent collective of journalists working inside the country, said it had counted more than 60 bodies by the Rusizi River separating Burundi from Congo since January.
Most had been beheaded or had limbs amputated, it said.
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