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US Deeply Alarmed at Spiraling Violence in Burundi, U.S. Supports HRC Special Session
December 16, 2015

Human Rights Council Special Session on Burundi

Organizational Meeting
Statement by Ambassador Keith Harper


Geneva, December 16, 2015

Thank you, Mr. President. The United States is pleased to be a part of the overwhelming support for calling the Special Session today. We believe that a Human Rights Council Special Session is urgently needed to address the human rights crisis in Burundi, and ask for the support of all delegations for a resolution that sends a powerful signal to those committing human rights abuses and violations on all sides.

My government is growing more fearful of the potential for mass atrocities in Burundi. The United States condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the attacks that took place last Friday. This escalation in violence brings Burundi closer to the brink of civil war. An engaged Human Rights Council at this critical moment can provide important information on the human rights situation, keep international attention focused on Burundi, and maintain pressure to avert mass atrocities and seek a political resolution to the crisis. There is no military solution, only a political one.

We are deeply alarmed by the spiraling violence in Burundi perpetrated or directed by government and non-government actors alike – including by regional actors. We are similarly alarmed by the Burundi government’s political repression of individuals perceived to be part of the opposition and recent divisive rhetoric which has taken on increasingly ethnic tones.

At least 300 people have been killed in Burundi since April, with hundreds more injured. Over 225,000 have already fled Burundi this year for fear of violence, and Burundians continue to flee to the neighboring countries despite efforts to keep them from being able to leave. We have seen increasing reports of stockpiles of weapons, and targeted violence has become a normal occurrence in Burundi.

Over the last month, we have heard deeply disturbing statements from Burundi President Nkurunziza and President of the Senate Ndikuriyo. When leaders, trusted to protect and guide their people, use terms like “pulverize” and “exterminate” when speaking of their own citizens, it evokes the horrors of previous episodes of mass violence committed in Burundi.

UNSC Resolution 2248, which was adopted on November 12, calls on the Government of Burundi to protect human rights and cooperate with regional African mediators to convene immediately an inclusive and genuine inter-Burundian dialogue, both inside and outside of Burundi. The resolution affirms the importance of UN and AU contingency planning for a peacekeeping force.

The African Union Peace and Security Council has played a leadership role as this crisis has emerged. It condemned the human rights situation in Burundi and called for action, including contingency planning for a peacekeeping force, an increase in human rights monitors, and possible targeted sanctions against those responsible for the violence. The presence of full contingent of African Union military and human rights observers is critical for verifying reports of violence and human rights abuses on all sides.

The human rights situation in Burundi is dire, and one in which a single event could spark mass violence. In such a context, the UN system’s primary human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council, must take action. Given its mandate to promote universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, focusing a continued spotlight on the violations and abuses of human rights is an important method for preventing further violence and mass atrocities.

It is essential that all the United Nation’s bodies and mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, remain engaged in Burundi at this critical moment.

Thank you.