Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza

Burundi’s government has banned three United Nations human rights experts from entering the East African state, according to a letter released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wednesday.

It is the latest missive in a row between Burundi and the UN after the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said last week it had uncovered evidence of crimes against humanity.

In a report for the UN Human Rights Council, the inquiry found proof of summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture, sexual violence and forced disappearances in 2017 and 2018.

Burundi’s government said in a letter addressed to three of the report’s authors – Doudou Diene, Lucy Asuagbor and Françoise Hampson – that they have been “declared persona non grata” due to their “defamatory and false report.”

Burundi has been seized by civil unrest since early 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office despite a two-term limit.

Nkurunziza’s election victory in July 2015 unleashed a crisis that led to hundreds of killings and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others.

Deputy Human Rights Commissioner Kate Gilmore told the Council that her office could not deliver a promised report on human rights in Burundi because the government had not cooperated with the expert team, who were deployed in March and told their visas were cancelled in April.

“It is a matter of concern that through its lack of cooperation Burundi has prevented implementation of this Council’s resolution and the mandated work of the group of experts,” she said.

Burundi has been gripped by violence since early 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term, widely seen as a breach of the constitution.

Subsequent clashes between security forces and rebels left hundreds dead and forced about half a million to flee, reviving memories of the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic mix.

Gilmore welcomed criticism of Burundi by European diplomats at the council, which she said showed “the inappropriateness, the unacceptability of this paralysis”.

Burundian Ambassador to the UN Renovat Tabu said the departure of the UN team had been spun to cast his government in a bad light.

“Burundi regrets… the way in which events have been twisted in order to imply there has not been full cooperation,” he said.

“Burundi is concerned by an unfair accusation which further entrenches the hostility which has been commonplace against Burundi for some time.”

He said former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al-Hussein had changed the U.N. team’s mission, an “irregularity” which surprised Burundi’s migration services, who declined to extend the team’s visas.

The agreement to send the experts to Burundi, based on a resolution submitted by the African group of countries at the Council in 2017, was widely seen as a diplomatic ploy to derail a more heavyweight Commission of Inquiry.