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UN rights office concerned over Burundi suppression of free speech ahead of elections
UN rights office concerned over Burundi suppression of free speech ahead of elections

[JURIST] The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern [press release] Friday over actions by Burundi [CIA backgrounder] authorities ahead of its upcoming presidential elections. OHCHR Spokesman Rupert Colville noted in particular [UN News Centre report] the detention of hundreds of people in overcrowded prisons, the use of live ammunition by Burundi security forces during protests, and restricting the free exchange of information by shutting down Radio Publique Africaine and blocking several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp. The OHCHR urged Burundi to adopt measures to protect free expression, including free speech and demonstration, and to protect free and fair elections in the country. The call echoes that made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile], who said in April that the upcoming elections in Burundi place the nation at a critical moment in history [JURIST report], 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.”

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 at least 47 extrajudicial executions [JURIST report] 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 OHCHR expressed concerns about freedom of expression in Burundi [JURIST report] 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.