NGOs have called for action against senior Burundian intelligence, army and police figures who, they say, have violated human rights. Picture: AP Photo/Gildas Ngingo, File

Johannesburg - Ahead of next month's presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council, an independent panel has said that the human rights situation in Burundi has not improved. 

Fatsah Ouguergouz, the head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, has told UN News that based on more than 470 testimonies of people inside Burundi and in exile, alleged human rights abuses in the Great Lakes state were continuing. 

“Since last June, where the Commission made its oral declaration at the Human Rights Council, we received no sign of a positive evolution of the situation in Burundi, in particular, as far as the restriction to certain freedoms are concerned,” Ouguergouz said. 

“On the contrary, we have received some testimonies since June showing that there's a kind of tendency that what we have underlined in June is persisting.” 

The Commission is following up on reports of horrific abuse, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, and sexual violence. 

“The signal that we have received through those testimonies are for us clear evidence that the situation has not improved since June,” the senior official said. 

He noted that “there was no cooperation with the government” on these findings, and that the Commission was not allowed into the territory. 

The nearly 500 interviews were done outside of Burundi or through third parties with people in Burundi. The findings will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in September. 

Established for a period of a year at the Council's 33rd session last year, the Commission has also been mandated to identify the alleged perpetrators of violations and abuses, since April 2015, with a view to ensuring full accountability. 

"The political and human rights crisis that gripped Burundi the previous year, deepened in 2016 as government forces targeted perceived opponents with increased brutality," said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Security forces and intelligence services - often in collaboration with members of the ruling party’s youth league, known as Imbonerakure - were responsible for numerous killings, disappearances, abductions, torture, rape, and arbitrary arrests. Armed opposition groups also carried out attacks and killed ruling party members.

The justice system is manipulated by ruling party and intelligence officials and judicial procedures are routinely flouted. The prosecutor general created several commissions of inquiry into allegations of serious human rights abuses. But their reports were biased and misleading, largely exonerating security forces and failing to hold those responsible to account, said HRW.

More than 325 000 Burundians have fled the country since 2015, most to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.