AU calls for Burundi rights probe, targeted sanctions

Burundian refugees walk to a camp in Tanzania Ocotber 7 as their home nation faces fresh unrest, which the UN Security Council moved to address with a resolution November 12, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mary Mndeme)

Addis Ababa (AFP) - The African Union said Saturday it was launching an investigation into rights abuses in Burundi and called for targeted sanctions to be imposed.

After a meeting on the ongoing post-election crisis in the central African nation, the AU's Peace and Security Council also said the pan-African body should undertake "contingency planning" for the possible deployment "of an African-led Mission to prevent widespread violence in the country."

Burundi has been gripped by unrest since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced earlier this year that he was running for a controversial third term, which the opposition, civil society and even sections of his own party said violated the constitution as well as the Arusha peace deal that ended the central African country's civil war in 2006.

The crisis has intensified since Nkurunziza's re-election in July, with assassinations targeting figures on both sides of the divide, attacks against the police and summary executions.

The impoverished nation, which has a history of ethnic violence, was also hit by an attempted coup in May.

In a statement, the AU's Peace and Security Council sounded the alarm over "growing insecurity and the continued rise in violence in Burundi, as well as the increased cases of human rights abuses, including assassinations, extra-judicial killings (and) arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions."

It called for "targeted sanctions, including travel ban and asset freeze, against all the Burundian stakeholders whose actions and statements contribute to the perpetuation of violence and impede the search for a solution."

It also said the AU would launch "in-depth investigation on the violations of human rights and other abuses against civilian populations in Burundi," and repeated the AU's view that Nkurunziza's election win was "non-inclusive and non-consensual".

In a separate statement, the United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, Thomas Perriello, condemned "ongoing abuses that have become too common in Burundi."

"The United States remains deeply disturbed by the state of the media in Burundi and the safety of journalists," he added.