- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

GENEVA (AP) - The U.N.’s top human rights body has opened an urgent special session to take up the rising violence in Burundi, with the U.S. leading a diplomatic push aiming to deploy a mission of experts and launch an investigation of abuses.

Thursday’s session of the Human Rights Council comes just days after at least 87 people were killed in attacks on military facilities in the capital, Bujumbura, and weeks after Burundi was elected as a member of the 47-member rights body based in Geneva. Top U.N. officials including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have expressed fears that the African country is headed toward civil war.

Burundi has been in turmoil since the April announcement that President Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office, which he won in a disputed election in July.

The U.N. human rights chief, speaking to the council, cited new U.N. figures that at least 400 people have been killed since April 26, and nearly 3,500 arrested in the political crisis. He said at least 220,000 people have fled the country.

“The events of last week confirmed the extent to which violence and intimidation are catapulting the country back to the past - to Burundi’s deeply troubled, dark and horrendously violent past,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein said. “The time for piecemeal responses and fiddling around the edges is over.”

Zeid called for a “robust, decisive response” from the international community. He called for border controls, a government effort to disarm pro-government militias, efforts to stop the flow of weapons into Burundi, and consideration of “the use of drones” as one way to help monitor borders.

U.N. officials say the main sticking points in a draft resolution that would authorize the deployment of experts center on how quickly an investigative team could be sent in and when it would report back to the Human Rights Council, both orally and in writing. The text was expected to be voted on and approved later Thursday.

The text stops short of a full-fledged commission of inquiry, the highest level of investigation that the panel can authorize. The exact makeup and mandate of the investigative team would still need to be determined.

African Union nations, meanwhile, have appeared reticent. Only one African country, Ghana, publicly signed onto the U.S.-led push for the special session backed by dozens of Western and other countries. The AU is carrying out a fact-finding mission in Burundi.

U.N. officials fear the violence in Burundi, which has mainly been political so far, could take an ethnic turn in a country with a large Hutu majority and Tutsi minority - like neighboring Rwanda.

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