Former president's arrest seen as part of pattern of abuse

The recent arrest of Burundi's former president, Domitien Ndayizeye, on allegations that he was planning to overthrow the state, is one of a spate of abuses by the government, according to human-rights groups.

"The situation is deteriorating, with reports of summary extrajudicial executions, arbitrary and illegal arrests and kidnappings," Audace Ndayisaba, the vice-chairman of Iteka, a local human-rights group, said in Bujumbura on Thursday.

Reports emerged on Wednesday that seven people in police custody had been executed and nine others were missing in the northeastern province of Muyinga. The bodies of the seven were found in the Ruvubu River on 17 July, Pierre Mbonimpa, the chairman of APRODH, the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and the Rights of Detainees, said on Thursday.

On Friday, state prosecutor, Jean Bosco Ndikumana, refused to comment on the allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and kidnappings. "We should let justice do its job," he said, in reference to ongoing investigations.

In a statement released on Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "deeply concerned" about recent developments in Burundi, in particular reports of a possible coup plot and the subsequent arrest of several individuals, including prominent political figures, among them Ndayizeye.

"The Secretary-General urges the Government of Burundi to pursue due process and respect the rights of the detained individuals in addressing this delicate issue," Annan said in the UN statement.

The government bypassed Ndayizeye's parliamentary immunity and arrested him illegally, Ndayisaba said. "Nobody is above the law, but procedures have to be respected. Only known criminals or people likely to flee the country should be arrested in such a way," Ndayisaba added.

Former President Ndayizeye was summoned on Monday to the Senate and informed that his parliamentary immunity had been lifted because the state prosecutor needed to investigate his role in the alleged coup plot. Three hours later he was in jail.

Human-rights groups are also concerned about members of civil society and other political leaders who have been arrested recently. They fear more summary executions.

On 15 August, the bodies of four people that had been in police custody at Kinama, in the north of the capital, Bujumbura, were found on the roadside.

At the time, the minister of the interior, Brig Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye, and police spokesman Col Pierre Claver Gahungu, condemned the killings and said an investigation was under way. More than a week later there were still no findings from the investigation, but Gahungu said on Friday that none of the recent abuses could be traced to the police.

"The national police cannot be held accountable for the arbitrary arrests, illegal detention or kidnappings," he said.

Responding to the other report in which seven people were killed, Gahungu said on Thursday that police had not yet been formally informed of the killings. "The case does not involve police agents," he said.

According to Mbonimpa, the human rights official, the dead and missing were taken out of police custody and sent to a military barrack in Muyinga. His organisation is helping families of the missing trace their whereabouts and helping families of the dead file a lawsuit.

Ndayisaba said that condemning these abuses was not enough. Unless the officers behind the murders were prosecuted, he said, "people will believe the murders took place with the blessing of the police".