U.N. agrees new team of experts for Burundi but EU and U.S. decry move

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed on Thursday to send experts to work with Burundi’s government in pursuing perpetrators of “deplorable crimes” but the European Union and United States criticized the resolution.

They said the last-minute move presented by African nations failed to take into account the conclusions of an existing probe which accused senior Burundian officials of atrocities that may amount to crimes against humanity.

That commission said there are reasonable grounds to believe crimes against humanity have been committed since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term in office. The opposition said he was acting unconstitutionally.

A government crackdown on protests followed and the ensuing upheaval triggered a food crisis and the exodus of over 400,000 refugees.

The African text, supported by Bujumbura’s delegation, was adopted by a vote of 23 states in favor, 14 against, with nine abstentions at the 47-member Geneva forum.

“The text in no way reflects the scale or severity of the situation in Burundi,” Latvia’s ambassador Janis Karklins said on behalf of the EU. “It doesn’t take into account the conclusions of the investigation team and no follow-up is provided to them.”

The last-minute maneuver by the African Group, led by Tunisia, “presents a dangerous precedent for the Council”, he said.

It was unclear if an EU resolution on Burundi, which would extend the mandate of the existing U.N. inquiry, could survive in some form after the African resolution.

The Council is expected to decide on the EU resolution before its three-week session ends on Friday.

The United States voiced deep disappointment at what it called the African resolution’s failure to address the grave human rights situation in Burundi.

“Due to severe restrictions on space for civil society and independent media, the Commission of Inquiry serves as a critical and credible source of information and must be able to continue its work,” U.S. diplomat Jason Mack said.

“We remind this Council that after conducting more than 500 interviews the commission found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Burundi and the government of Burundi continues to engage in extrajudicial killing, torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and sexual violence,” he said.

The Human Rights Council “should not support any mechanism short of a commission of inquiry or this Council further risks diminishing its credibility as the primary mechanism for protecting and promoting human rights”, Mack added.

Burundi’s ambassador Renovat Tabu declined to comment after the vote, but earlier told the Council that the EU had “a hidden agenda” against his country.

“The (Burundi) government has already achieved substantial progress in improving the human rights situation as well as building the rule of law, and in the fight against impunity and is determined to continue its efforts to move forward,” he said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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