Burundi blocks rights group's press conference on violence
5/2/2012 3:50:02 PM -
NAIROBI (AFP) - Burundi on Wednesday blocked Human Rights Watch from holding a press conference to release a report on the country's political violence, which it blamed on state agents and armed opposition groups.
The rights group's Africa researcher Carina Tertsakian said the interior ministry ordered the cancellation of the meeting without giving any reason.
"The ministry wrote us a letter saying it was not authorising the press conference, without giving a reason," Tertsakian told AFP.
"This seems an exceptional case because several organisations told us that we could hold a press conference without seeking any permission."
In the report, the New York-based rights group said the killings had been carried out by state agents and ruling party members in a tit-for-tat pattern with armed opposition groups.
"Not only has the state failed to take reasonable steps to ensure security and provide protection for its citizens, it has also not fulfilled its duty to take all reasonable measures to prevent and prosecute these types of crimes," the report read.
No internal ministry official was willing to comment.
"The government seems to have reacted to the title of our report, but it is our duty to denounce political violence in Burundi," said Tertsakian.
Attacks and murders have increased in Burundi since the 2010 elections boycotted by the opposition claiming irregularities, with their key leaders fleeing since into exile and some blamed by the government for the unrest.
HRW said that even in cases where the victims were members of the ruling party, the government failed to deliver justice.
Political protection of suspects, a weak judicial system and fear by witnesses to testify have undermined prosecution of those behind the killings, the rights group said.
"Some victims' relatives who, despite such threats, pressed for justice, have done so in vain," according to the report entitled "'You Will Not Have Peace While You Are Living': Escalation of Political Violence in 2011."
"Even in a rare case in which people were prosecuted, serious irregularities undermined the fairness and credibility of the trial," said Daniel Bekele, the HRW Africa director.
In 2010, Burundi expelled a Human Rights Watch researcher, accusing her of "prejudice" to the country's institutions.
The order came only days after the rights watchdog called on authorities to act against numerous incidents of political violence ahead of polls.
The upsurge in violence in Burundi has led many observers to fear a new outbreak of hostilities on the scale of the conflict that ravaged the country between 1993 and 2006.
The European Union delegation in Burundi in February urged authorities to probe several notorious cases of murders and attacks.