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U.N. rights forum sets up inquiry into killing, torture in Burundi

GENEVA (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights forum agreed on Friday to set up a commission of inquiry to identify perpetrators of killings and torture in Burundi and ensure that they are brought to justice.

The panel would build on the work of U.N. experts who looked into the suspected torture and murder of government opponents. They said last week they had drawn up a list of suspects who should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Burundi has been mired in political crisis and sporadic violence for more than a year, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office, which he secured in a disputed election in July 2015.

Burundi’s government had called the experts’ report biased and politically motivated and denied all its allegations.

“The creation of an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Burundi is an important step toward ending impunity for the grave crimes committed in the country,” Carina Tertsakian, senior researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The United Nations has verified 564 executions in the central African nation since April 2015, the experts said.

Slovenia’s ambassador Vojislav Suc, speaking on behalf of the European Union, told the U.N. Human Rights Council the findings of the report, which said the violations has been “committed primarily by state actors and in complete impunity”, were alarming.

The council adopted an EU resolution for a one-year commission by a vote of 19 states in favor and seven against, with 21 abstentions.

The African vote was split, with Burundi and Morocco voting against, Ghana voting in favor and the other 11 African members including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa abstaining.

Burundi’s ambassador Renovat Tabu rejected the resolution as containing “a lot of lies” about the situation in the country, which he said had stabilized.

“For the government of Burundi, the creation of another investigating mechanism is inappropriate and unjustified given that the country has enough other mechanism for monitoring the human rights situation in the country already,” he said.

“We can never say it enough, resolutions imposed on states without their consent are nothing more or less than politicization, impartiality and selectivity.”

Christof Heyns, one of the U.N. experts, told reporters on Tuesday: “The crisis is not over, it has deepened in Burundi.”

The International Criminal Court has begun “preliminary investigations” into Burundi, he said.

Additional reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alison Williams