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UN investigator: Burundi mission was a success

Interview: Eunice WanjiruMarch 8, 2016

Three independent experts working for the United Nations have ended their investigation into alleged mass graves in Burundi. One of them told DW they had good access to all conflicting parties.

Policemen in Burundi
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Stringer

The government of Burundi has denied accusations that its security forces were behind a number of mass graves containing the bodies of dozens of opposition supporters. The authorities have blamed the armed opposition for carrying out the killings.

Christof Heyns, a South African, was in Burundi this week with two other experts, a Colombian and an Algerian. They were sent by the United Nations to investigate human rights violations in the country that has been gripped by political violence. Heyns spoke to DW about the mission.

DW: Mr Heyns, did things become clearer for you during this week?

Christof Heyns: Yes, as you know, this is the first phase of a longer process and we will come back again in June and afterwards. We had good access to government officials, to the police and also to victims and civil societies. I think we were able to get a good picture of where we are and perhaps some of the vague directions in which things should be going.

You said you had good cooperation with the government, just how cooperative were they and other people you spoke to?

I think the access was good. I don't think the public security sector, the intelligence services, the defense forces and the police have previously engaged with the United Nations on this level. Of course it differs - some officials were more open than others. But in some cases there were officials whom we thought were open to look at how to improve matters.

Are you already making recommendations to the government?

No. We have amongst ourselves started to formulate some recommendations. Generally, of course, the issue of inclusive dialogue and a security situation that is conducive to inclusive dialogue and accountability, those are things that we emphasized. These are very general terms but we will start to work on more concrete recommendations now.

What is the next stage?

On March 21, one of the three of us will report to the [United Nations] Human Rights Council. And then the idea is to come back again in June for a visit and in the meantime to place nine observers on the ground in Bujumbura.

So this was the first of several investigative missions to Burundi and you are talking about going back again. Are you satisfied with your findings so far?

I think for a first visit we got a good picture of what we are looking for. I think it's clear that a lot of work still needs to be done and that there are many concerns that need to be addressed but I think it was a good start.

Christof Heyns is the UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Interview: Eunice Wanjiru