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Burundian peace activist barred from UN meeting

A briefing by a Burundian activist to the United Nations Security Council was cancelled at the last minute on Thursday after Russia objected to her participation, diplomats said.

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Carine Kaneza, spokesperson for the Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security.

Rights activist Carine Kaneza was scheduled to brief the Council on the devastating crisis in her homeland as it discussed a damning report by the new UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on the situation in Burundi.

Diplomatic sources said that Russia objected to her participation and her intervention was cancelled.

The report by Guterres, which is his first on Burundi, states that the political impasse in the country has deepened, while the population is terrorised by a regime of serious and systematic human rights abuses, almost two years after Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term, sparking mass protests and a failed coup.

Guterres strongly warned against Nkurunziza seeking a fourth term – a possibility that the president alluded to in December – and joined others in sounding the alarm on a political process that could lead to changes to the constitution, which he said “has the potential to plunge the country into an even deeper crisis”.

Kaneza, who is a spokesperson for the Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security, said that “the risk of genocide and mass atrocities” described in the Secretary-General’s report are clear red flags.

The report says that despite a decline in overt violence and fewer incidences of armed confrontation, reports of human rights violations and abuses continue, including killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment, and the discovery of unidentified bodies.

He details allegations of more than 200 cases of enforced disappearances since October 2016 and 593 violations of the right to life since April 2015.

In response to the report, the Burundian ambassador to the UN, Albert Shingiro, said Guterres was part of “an axis of evil” that was “harassing” Burundi.

While the government claims that the situation in the country is calm, thousands of Burundians continue to flee. With some 386,000 already having crossed borders to neighbouring countries, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, forecasts that more than half a million people will be living outside the country by the end of 2017.

The Secretary-General’s top diplomat on Burundi, Special Adviser on Conflict Prevention Jamal Benomar, noted that “the accounts of torture that are emerging from the country are horrendous".

"Bodies are being found across the country in rivers and hanged in supposed suicides," he said.

Despite being barred from the Security Council briefing, Kaneza spoke to some Council members on the sidelines of the meeting. She said she is particularly keen to see more pressure from the Great Lakes region and called on Burundi’s neighbours to speak with one voice and in order to apply coercive measures, including a potential trade embargo, in an effort to bring the government to the table.


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