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Society | Human rights

Burundi "must prosecute" indicted secret agents

afrol News, 26 October - Human Rights Watch argued that the Burundian government must not allow its secret agents indicted in inflicting tortures, killing and gross violations of human rights to go scot-free. No one has yet been tried for the many grave crimes against humanity committed in Burundi during and after the civil war.

"The government of Burundi must bring to justice members of the national intelligence service (SNR) at all levels of the chain of command responsible for serious rights abuses," a release issued by Human Rights Watch said. The New York-based human rights group wondered why the Burundian government should drag its feet to prosecute SNR agents who have been implicated in at least 38 extrajudicial executions and more than 200 arbitrary arrests and tortures over the years.

"Since the new government took office, the intelligence service has been free to use any means necessary, including killing and torture, to reach its goals," said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch. "The government must address this pattern of continuing violations."

In a 33-page report, "'We flee when we see them': Abuses with Impunity by the Burundi National Intelligence Service," the group documents five incidents of extrajudicial executions, as well as instances of torture and arbitrary detention. It catalogued the beatings of some detainees with batons until they lost consciousness. "In one case, a detainee has been held for over 11 months in the SNR detention facilities without charge," the report outlined.

Human rights groups have been blaming the government of Burundi for not investigating the cases of reported incidents of torture and extrajudicial executions involving SNR. In recent times, the Bujumbura government has arrested two SNR agents for their participation in the disappearance and murder of people, in particular in Muyinga province in July and August 2006.

However, no one has yet been tried for these crimes. "The arrest of two suspects is promising," said Mr Des Forges. "But it is now up to the police and judicial authorities to conduct vigorous investigations and prosecute all of those implicated to the full extent of the law."

In March 2006, the Burundian government passed a law establishing the Service National de Renseignement (SNR) out of the former Documentation Nationale. The head of the SNR reports directly to the President and there is no independent oversight of intelligence activities.

Human rights monitors from non-governmental organigations and the United Nations Operation in Burundi have rarely been permitted access to detainees held in SNR detention facilities, according to the report.

After more than a decade of civil war in Burundi, the largest rebel group, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie- Forces pour la défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD) won elections in 2005 and took power under the leadership of a new national president, Pierre Nkurunziza.

The SNR has often presented its activities as necessary to counter threats from the National Liberation Forces (Forces Nationales pour la Liberation, FNL), the last rebel groups in armed opposition to the government. On 7 September, the government and the FNL signed a ceasefire agreement, finally ending the Burundian civil war.

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