UN and NGOs try to deal with Burundi on 17 December

December 16, 2015

Tomorrow 17 December there will be a Special session of the Human Rights Council on preventing further deterioration [now that is diplomatic language!] of the human rights situation in Burundi. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is using the occasion to organize a side event on:  “Escalation of Violence in Burundi: Human rights defenders voices from the ground” from 09.00-10.00 am in Room XII, Palais des Nations, Geneva. It will be webcast live on www.ishr.ch/webcast. Follow on twitter using the hash-tag #BurundiHRDs.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Panelists (moderator Nicolas Agostini of FIDH):

  • Mr Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Incarcerated Persons (APRODH), MEA Laureate 2007.
  • Ms Margaret Barankitse, Maison Shalom
  • Mr Anschaire Nikoyagize, Ligue ITEKA
  • Ms Carina Tertsakian, Human Rights Watch
There has been almost unanimity on the need for international attention and action. For those who want to see some of the major reports that came out recently, see the summary below. See also my earlier post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/burundi-what-more-early-warning-does-one-need/

Protesters who are against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term march towards the town of Ijenda, Burundi, June 3, 2015. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

On 16 December OMEGA SSUUNA wrote for the Centre for African Journalists (CAJ News) that “Hate speech leaves Burundi prone to atrocity” It said that the East African country that is teetering on the brink of a recurrence of mass atrocities and civil war. On the back of escalating, widely-condemned hate speech, the volatile country has witnessed months of violence triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s successful but controversial bid to win a third term in office.


The level of violence in Burundi is of great concern and characterised by arbitrary arrests and detentions, among other ills, an African Union fact-finding mission has reported. The delegation was in Burundi from December 7 to 13 pursuant to Article 45 and 58 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The delegation comprised Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson of the Commission and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa; Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa; Jamesina Essie L. King, Chairperson of the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Dr Solomon Ayele Dersso, Chairperson on the Working Group on Extractive Industries, the Environment and Human Rights Violations. The Peace and Security Council of the AU is expected to propose recommendations basing on the delegation’s findings.


On 25 November 2015 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the Burundian authorities’ suspension of 10 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including several working on peace and human rights issues, warning against a relapse into “full-fledged civil war.” “This suspension appears to be an attempt by Burundian authorities to silence dissenting voices and to limit the democratic space,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said of the Central African country, which has been in the midst of a political crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term earlier this year. He warned about the worsening human rights and security situation in Burundi, where the UN played a key role in restoring stability after decades of strife between Hutus and Tutsis, and the risk of regional repercussions.

Human Rights Watch issued a report focusing on the media. It says that Burundi’s journalists and human rights defenders have had a rough year. A relentless government crackdown has forced almost all of them to flee the country. The assault has been overwhelming: government closure of all the main private radio stations, repeated death threats, threats of prosecution on trumped-up charges, beatings, and the attempted murder of leading human rights activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Burundi’s vibrant civil society movement and strong independent media used to be the envy of other countries in the region. But the government has spent the past year trying to destroy them.

The latest blow came just last week, when Interior Minister Pascal Barandagiye ordered 10 Burundian nongovernmental organizations to suspend their activities. The move came four days after the prosecutor general ordered their bank accounts to be frozen. The organizations include Mbonimpa’s group, the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (APRODH), and Maison Shalom, which helps vulnerable children and runs a hospital in Ruyigi province.

Source: Dispatches: Fresh Attempts to Muzzle Free Speech in Burundi | Human Rights Watch

On 9 December 2015, Front Line Defenders also reported on the freezing of several human rights organisations’  bank accounts.

On 7 December 2015 a document issued jointly by the Ministry of Justice and the General Prosecutor’s Office of Burundi informed Radio Publique Africaine – RPA (African Public Radio), Ligue Burundaise des Droits de L’Homme – ITEKA (Burundian League for Human Rights), Syndicat des Travailleurs de l’Enseignement du Burundi – STEB (Education Workers Union of Burundi) and l’Association pour la Recherche sur l’Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme au Burundi – AREDDHO (Association for Research on Environment, Democracy and Human Rights in Burundi) that their bank accounts were frozen and private bank information was disclosed to the government.

All organisations work on various issues concerning human rights. RPA is a private radio station of Burundi known for reporting killings, massacres and other human rights violations in Burundi. ITEKA works on the promotion and defence of human rights through monitoring and denouncing human rights violations and advocating for new laws and strategies to address human rights violations. STEB is a trade union of teachers formed to protect and further their rights in accordance with labour law. And lastly, AREDDHO concentrates on human rights research, environmental issues and democracy.  On 7 December 2015 all four organisations received a letter signed by the Burundian Prosecutor-General, Mr. Valentin Bagorikunda, which informed them that the authorities had required banks, in which the organisations have their accounts, to disclose their private banking information and to freeze their accounts, without giving any further explanation or justification for the order. None of the organisations have been summoned to appear before the courts nor informed about any ongoing investigations against them.

This act of harassment follows previous incidents targeting NGOs in Burundi, such as the suspension order against 10 human rights NGOs in the country, issued on 24 November 2015 <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/fr/node/30156> . Mr Bob Rugurika <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/taxonomy/term/12002> , the Director of RPA, has also been targeted as a result of his human rights work. Other human rights defenders in the country have also been constantly targeted, such as Pierre Claver Mbonimpa.


On 24 November several Burundian NGOs (EHAHRDP, APRODH, ACAT-Burundi, FOCODE, FORSC, RCP) issued a statement: “Burundi: Soon, there will be no human rights defenders left”

While wide-spread human rights abuses continue to take place, with daily reports of torture, illegal searches and extrajudicial killings, the once vibrant and outspoken human rights defenders community in Burundi is struggling to speak out about the worsening situation,” said the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP), Association pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH), Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture au Burundi (ACAT-Burundi), Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE), Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC), and the Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP). “Burundian independent media and civil society have become the battleground of this crisis. In this context, we strongly urge the international community, and particularly the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi, to step up its public reporting on the situation and to unequivocally denounce the grave abuses taking place.”

The statement lists some of the worst attacks:

On 13 October 2015, on Christophe Nkezabahizi, a cameraman of Radio Telévision Nationale du Burundi (RTNB) was assassinated with his wife and 2 children. It has been reported to EHAHRDP by reliable sources that he had been filming sensitive images of the human rights abuses taking place in Burundi.

On 16 November 2015, Antoine Kaburahe, the Director of independent newspaper Iwacu was summoned to the prosecutor’s office, accusing him of being part of the failed coup d’état in May. He is accused of taking part in the coup d’état alongside a number of other leading members of civil society, many of whom have now been forced into exile.

Since May 2015, over 100 human rights defenders have had to flee the country, a move complicated further by their fear of repercussions against their families. In a speech made on 23 October 2015, President Pierre Nkurunziza reminded the community in exile that they should not “consider themselves superior to their fellow citizens still inside the country, especially since most of them left their families inside the country.” This poorly veiled threat did not take long to materialise. On 6 November 2015, renowned human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa’s son was found dead mere hours after being arrested by the police.  Pierre Claver Mbonimpa himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on 3 August. He was shot in the face and the neck as he drove home from work, and had to be evacuated to Brussels to receive medical treatment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: