UN rights chief slams 'rape chants' by Burundi youth

Soldiers guard a voting station in the opposition stronghold of Musaga in Bujumbura, Burundi, on June 29, 2015

The UN rights chief on Tuesday condemned the feared youth wing of Burundi's ruling party for repeatedly calling for the rape and murder of opposition supporters.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the calls for violence -- which often took the form of songs or chants -- by members of the Imbonerakure youth wing of the CNND-FDD party amounted to a "campaign of terror."

"The grotesque rape chants by the young men of the Imbonerakure across several provinces in various parts of Burundi are deeply alarming -- particularly because they confirm what we have been hearing from those who have fled Burundi about a campaign of fear and terror by this organised militia," Zeid said in a statement.

The youth wing, whose name means "those who see from afar" in the local Kirundi language, has come under scrutiny since Burundi spiralled into crisis two years ago when President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a bid for a third term in office, sparking street protests and a failed coup attempt.

More than 400,000 people have fled the country since the unrest began and the UN estimates at least 500 people have been killed, though NGOs believe that year-old death toll is an underestimate and the real count could be as many as 2,000 people.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Imbonerakure of being involved in assaults on opposition members, gang-rapes of women and torture, while the UN regularly refers to them as a militia.

- 'Organised incitement' -

Earlier this month, the ruling party was forced to disavow a video that emerged of youth wing members singing "impregnate the opposition so that they give birth to Imbonerakure".

The UN statement said that video was just "the tip of the iceberg" and said similar calls for violence had continued throughout April.

In one case, about 2,500 Imbonerakure in the northern city of Kayanza marched along a main road chanting slogans that called for the rape of opposition supporters.

In the eastern province of Ruyigi a crowd of 200 that included youth wing members attending the inauguration of a party office also began singing for the rape of their opponents, the UN statement said.

In that instance, party officials told them to stop.

"The government needs to stop pretending that the Imbonerakure are nothing but a community development group," said the UN statement.

"In a region which has suffered so many massive outbreaks of violence and atrocities, this type of organised incitement rings very loud alarm bells."