UN commission warns new Burundi leader needs watching

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A United Nations commission of inquiry warns that it will take more than a new president to reverse the trend of repression in the East African country of Burundi.

The commission warned the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday that the election won by President Evariste Ndayishimiye in May was marked by “political intolerance” even though no widespread violence was recorded.

The new leader at his swearing-in spoke of human rights and political dialogue and invited tens of thousands of refugees to return to Burundi after they fled deadly turmoil around the previous vote in 2015.

Former leader Pierre Nkurunziza, whose decision to pursue a third term in 2015 sparked the protests and deadly crackdown that followed, decided not to run again in May and died shortly after the election from what the government called a heart attack.

Now Ndayishimiye is being watched closely for signs of whether he will continue to rule as his ally Nkurunziza did.

The U.N. commission of inquiry says the new government looks much like the previous one, including some senior figures under international sanctions.

The commission in a statement Tuesday urged Burundi’s new leader to signal his willingness to cooperate with the international community by reopening the U.N. human rights office in the country. Nkurunziza kicked it out amid scrutiny of deadly abuses, and he engineered the country’s historic departure from the International Criminal Court.

In a note of optimism, the U.N. commission welcomed the new president’s turnaround in treating the coronavirus pandemic more seriously than his predecessor.

The commission, which calls itself the only international mechanism carrying out in-depth investigations into rights abuses in Burundi, is expected to present its final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September.

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