The UN human rights chief has condemned a “campaign of terror” by government-backed militia in Burundi who are calling for the rape and murder of members of the opposition.
A video circulated on social media shows more than 100 members of the Imbonerakure, the government’s youth wing, voicing rape chants and threats to kill, the UN rights office has confirmed.
The men in the footage repeatedly cry, “Make opponents pregnant so they can give birth to Imbonerakure”. Another group then repeats a chant in which the phrase “he or she should die” can be heard.
In a statement, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said: “The grotesque rape chants by the young men of the Imbonerakure across several provinces … are deeply alarming – particularly because they confirm what we have been hearing from those who have fled Burundi.”
A Burundian opposition group has claimed that, since tensions started to flare in April 2015, hundreds of girls and women with perceived links to political opponents have been raped by men apparently belonging to the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party.
The Imbonerakure – meaning “those who see from afar” in the local Kirundi language – has grown since the country spiralled into crisis two years ago when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a bid for a third term in office. The move sparked protests and a failed coup from opponents who claimed he had violated the republic’s constitution.
More than 400,000 people have fled the country since the unrest began, with an estimated 500 people killed, according to the UN. However, NGOs say the killings are under-reported and that the true death toll could be four times higher.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Imbonerakure of being involved in the gang rapes of women and the torture of opposition members.
The CNDD-FDD initially said the video footage, shot at a rally in Ntega commune, in the north-eastern Kirundo province, was fake and had been filmed outside Burundi.
But it later issued a statement condemning the chanting and stating that a preliminary enquiry had found there were “influences outside the party” at play.
However, Zeid has warned the incitement to hatred is part of a growing pattern and represents a wider and ongoing violation of human rights in Burundi.
Recent reports indicate that similar, significantly larger rallies have been organised across the country by members of the president’s party.
Zeid said: “Reports that senior officials were present at other rallies are very disturbing. There needs to be an acknowledgement that the Ntega rally was not an isolated incident, but rather the tip of the iceberg, brought to light only because it was captured on camera.“The government needs to stop pretending that the Imbonerakure are nothing but a community development group. Such blatant and brazen hate speech and incitement to violence must not be tolerated, nor encouraged.”
More than six incidents of inciting violence and attacks against the opposition have been recorded in the first week of April alone.
They include a rally on 1 April where about 2,500 Imbonerakure reportedly marched from Kayanza football stadium along the main road chanting slogans inciting rape and violence, with senior officials reportedly involved.
At a security meeting two days later, the governor of Makamba is understood to have urged the local population to “eliminate immediately” every person presumed to be a rebel.
Subsequently, on 7 April, the president of the senate is alleged to have incited people to violence in Makamba by calling for all suspected rebels to be “silently collected”. This is the latest of many such speeches where the president has apparently used coded language rooted in Burundi’s violent past.
The UN has also recorded an increase in reports of people being targeted because of their ethnicity between November 2016 and March 2017, as well as dozens of unidentified bodies discovered in various parts of the country over the same period.
Zeid has called on the authorities in Burundi to issue unequivocal instructions to police, security, intelligence and military officers to operate in line with international human rights law.