“I am concerned that restrictions have been increasingly imposed on freedom of assembly and the press in recent months in Burundi,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay , in a press release.
Recent attacks by the ruling party’s youth wing, including the murder of an opposition youth leader on February 19, are also deeply concerning, particularly in the run-up to the 2015 presidential elections, a she added.
At least 19 violent incidents involving members of the youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, have been documented since the start of the year, including beatings, extortion and intimidation of political opponents, as well as the banning and disruption of political meetings.
The latest incident occurred on February 28, when Imbonerakure allegedly beat members of the youth wing of an opposition party in Busoni village, Kirundo province.
“These acts of violence threaten to have a negative impact on the exercise of political rights and freedoms in Burundi, and there is a real risk that opposition youth groups will begin to retaliate, creating a dangerous spiral of violence,” Ms. Pillay said.
“I call on the government to publicly condemn these acts of violence so that those responsible for acts of violence are held accountable. This is essential if the growing political tensions in the country are to be defused,” she said.
The High Commissioner also expressed concern that the police, acting on the instructions of the administrative authorities, disrupted meetings organized by an opposition party on 18 and 19 February. A workshop organized by the Bujumbura Bar Association in accordance with the new law on public gatherings was also banned by the authorities on February 18.
“The growing restriction on public gatherings could significantly reduce the democratic space ahead of the election,” she said.
In addition, Ms Pillay drew attention to the potentially negative impact on press freedom of a new media law which requires journalists to reveal their sources of information when covering a number of issues. ranging from state security to public order.
“Next year’s elections will be a key test for Burundi,” she added. “Continued political violence is a threat to the democratic process in a country still slowly recovering from a protracted and devastating civil war.”