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Burundi forces UN human rights office to close

Chase Winter
March 5, 2019

Burundi claims the human rights situation has improved despite allegations the government may have committed crimes against humanity. The UN said human rights gains have been eroded due to a political crisis since 2015.

Soldiers in Burundi
Image: Getty Images/S. Platt

Burundi has shut down the United Nations human rights office in the African country, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Tuesday.

"It is with deep regret that we have had to close our office in Burundi after a 23-year presence in the country," Bachelet said. "Since the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was established in 1995, for many years we worked with the government on peacebuilding, security sector reform, justice sector reform and helped build institutional and civil society capacity on a whole host of human rights issues."

Read more: Burundi peace talks falter as government fails to attend 

"Unfortunately, many of these human rights gains have been seriously jeopardized since 2015," Bachelet said.

Burundi has been in a political crisis since April 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term in office.

At least 1,200 people have been killed and more than 400,000 others displaced due to violence, according to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has opened an investigation.

Massive human rights violations 

The ICC investigation prompted Burundi in 2017 to become the first country to withdrawal from the body established to prosecute the world's worst atrocities.

In 2016, Burundi suspended all cooperation with the UN human rights office following the release of a critical report. In December 2018, the Burundi's government requested UN human rights office close, explaining the human rights improvements made the international presence unnecessary.

Read more: UN investigators 'struck by scale' of crimes in Burundi 

The demand to close the office came after former UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein last year accused Burundi of being "some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times."

The UN human rights office in Burundi was established 1995 at a time of massive human rights violations carried out in the country following the assassination of then President Melchior Ndadaye.

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