Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Burundi's government of killing, beating and intimidating suspected opponents of a constitutional referendum next month that could see longserving President Pierre Nkurunziza in power until 2034.
The US-based monitor said government forces and ruling party members -- including a notorious youth group known as the Imbonerakure -- were targeting citizens ahead of the May 17 referendum.
"Burundian officials and the Imbonerakure are carrying out violence with near-total impunity to allow Nkurunziza to entrench his hold on power," said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at HRW.
"There is little doubt that the upcoming referendum will be accompanied by more abuses."
The report alleged security forces and officials "have killed, beaten, and intimidated perceived opponents" of the referendum.
Nkurunziza's run for a controversial third term in 2015 plunged Burundi into a deep political crisis that has left at least 1,200 people dead and forced 400,000 to flee the country. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has begun an investigation into widespread abuses since then.
HRW said the current wave of intimidation was aimed at securing a 'yes' vote in next month's referendum that would allow Nkurunziza to stay in power for two more seven-year terms from 2020.