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U.N. Condemns 'Grotesque Rape Chants' By Burundi Youth Militia

According to the U.N., the militia members in this video "repeatedly chant a call to impregnate or kill opponents."
According to the U.N., the militia members in this video "repeatedly chant a call to impregnate or kill opponents."

The United Nations' top human rights official is condemning a chant by a pro-government youth militia in the small East African country of Burundi.

The chant is shown in a video recorded and distributed by the human rights groups iBurundi and RCP Burundi. The U.N. says the members of the militia, called Imbonerakure, are encouraging the rape of women from the opposition so "that they give birth to Imbonerakure."

In a statement, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the video confirmed that this "organized militia" has been waging a "campaign of fear and terror."

"Such blatant and brazen hate speech and incitement to violence must not be tolerated nor encouraged," Zeid said. "In a region which has suffered so many massive outbreaks of violence and atrocities, this type of organized incitement rings very loud alarm bells."

The current conflict in Burundi started about two years ago when President Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term. An attempted coup by rebel military forces followed and since then the government has targeted those suspected of taking part in the coup. Their actions have taken an ethnic dimension and the Imbonerakure — which means "those who can see far" in the principal local language of Kirundi — have taken a central role.

Last summer, for example, Human Rights Watchissued a report that found the Imbonerakure routinely used rape in attacks against members of opposition parties and their family members. One researcher said at the time that youth militia members "tied up, brutally beat and gang-raped women, often with their children nearby."

The government of Burundi denies that there is widespread conflict in the country. They've asked the government of Uganda to repatriate about 50,000 refugees because they say Burundi is now safe. What's more, when this video first surfaced earlier this month, the ruling party condemned the chants and said that a preliminary investigation had found the chants were driven by "influences outside the party."

In his statement today, the U.N.'s Zeid appeared unconvinced. He pointed out that chants have been reported across the country and that days after this video surfaced, Imbonerakure youth chanted the same song during the inauguration of a party office.

"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 organized militia," Zeid added.

The conflict in Burundi has displaced more than 400,000 people to neighboring countries. According to the International Federation for Human Rights, more than 1,000 Burundians have been killed since the beginning of this conflict and some 8,000 are being held for political reasons.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.