[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] said [press release] Thursday that the upcoming elections in Burundi [CIA backgrounder] place the nation at a critical moment in history, with an opportunity to choose free and fair elections to “strengthen and mature Burundi’s still fragile democracy, and enable an improvement in its dire socio-economic situation.” Speaking at a press conference during his mission to Burundi, Zeid urged the incumbent administration and opposition parties to proceed with civility and place the good of the country above themselves, and stated that the nation’s culture and economy could not afford any more outbreaks of violence. The UN High Commissioner noted that to this point, Burundi has been on a path to greater human rights and democracy, but pointed to recent tensions in the buildup to elections, to take place between May and August, as cause for concern.
Although Burundi has recently adopted various treaties pledging respect for human rights, there have been a string of accusations against Burundi for human rights violations and limitations on freedom in the last few years. In February Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Burundian National Defense Forces and police committed [JURIST report] at least 47 extrajudicial executions following confrontation with an armed group in Cibitoke. HRW also said that armed members of the Burundian youth force, known as the Imbonerakure, participated in the executions. Earlier that month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concerns [JURIST report] about freedom of expression in Burundi following the arrest of Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine. In November the OHCHR reported that human rights activists in Burundi are treated as political opponents [JURIST report] by the state and subject to physical threats, anonymous phone calls, arbitrary arrests, assaults and judicial harassment. In June 2013 Burundi lawmakers passed [JURIST report] a media law that restricted journalistic freedom by limiting topics that can be reported and reducing the protection afforded to sources. The bill prohibited stories that could affect Burundi’s “national unity; public order and security; morality and good conduct; honor and human dignity; national sovereignty; the privacy of individuals; the presumption of innocence” or issues involving “propaganda of the enemy of the Burundian nation in times of peace as of war” and “information that could affect the credit of the state and the national economy.” In July 2010 Transparency International named [JURIST report] Burundi the most corrupt East-African nation with a corruption index of 36.7 percent.