New York - Burundi is experiencing rising political violence and restrictions on political rights, the press and civil liberties in the run-up to 2015 elections, the UN warned on Thursday.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is seeking a third term despite a constitutional limit of two terms, has been cracking down on the opposition and the media in the central African nation. Burundi's 16-year civil war, which ended in 2009, had been fought mainly between Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-dominated army, and resulted in the deaths of more than 250 000 people.
The current crackdown has increased fears of a possible renewal of violence between ethnic groups that have also clashed in Rwanda and DRC.
Most of Burundi's violence stems from the youth wing of the president's ruling party, which also is reportedly being armed and trained, the UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council in a briefing.
The UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric warned that if no action is taken and human rights violations occur, those responsible for manipulating these youths and instigating violence will be liable for international prosecution.
He said the secretary-general discussed the political situation with Burundi's president and first vice president as well as regional leaders including the presidents of Tanzania and South Africa in recent days.
"He is seeking their support in encouraging the government of Burundi to take concrete steps to address these reports," Dujarric said.
The Security Council condemned any recourse to violence and expressed concern for the reported acts of intimidation, harassment and violence committed by youth groups.
The council stressed the urgent need for the Burundi government "to address impunity while respecting the right of due process, and for all the political parties to publicly condemn all political violence and acts of incitement to hatred or violence".
Council members encouraged the government "to ensure a space for all political parties" and improve dialogue with all sectors of society ahead of the 2015 elections".
US Ambassador Samantha Power said she went to Burundi earlier this week and met president Nkurunziza because of "the alarming signs", including the government's decision to end the UN political mission in the country "at a time when there's significant political volatility."
She pointed to the very swift trials of 21 young people who were members of a leading opposition party, restrictive media laws, and moves to change the constitution. The president is reportedly seeking a constitutional change so he can run for a third term.
Power said the UN reports compound US worries, "because if you take a political crisis on the one hand and combine it with armaments on the other ... those are precisely the ingredients for the kind of violence that Burundi has managed to avoid now for a good few years".
Power said she told the president and others that "it would be terribly tragic after all the progress Burundi has made, if it slipped into a large-scale political crisis and certainly, of course, if it descended into violence".