Burundi after the “election”: UN and HRW follow up

July 21, 2020

Lisa Schlein reported on 14 July 2020 that UN Investigators are skeptical of reform promises by new President, while HRW sent a letter to the new President Ndayishimiye

Burundi's President Evariste Ndayishimiye gestures to the crowd after his inauguration in Gitega, Burundi Thursday, June 18,…

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi is doubting that promises of reform made by Burundi’s newly-elected president will result in hoped-for improvements in the country’s human rights situation. The commission has submitted its report on prevailing conditions in the country to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The three-member panel welcomes promises of political reconciliation, judicial reform and protection of the population made by President Ndayishimiye, in his inaugural address. But, the chair of the U.N. commission, Doudou Diene, says the president’s comments were full of ambiguities and contradictions. 

For example, he notes the president’s remarks seemed to justify the imposition of restrictions on some public liberties such as freedom of expression, information and assembly under the guise of preserving Burundian culture. 

Speaking on a video link from Paris, he said, “Such remarks are concerning, especially given that the new president’s policies will be implemented by a government composed primarily of the old guard of the late President Nkurunziza’s regime — some of whom are under sanctions for their involvement in grave human rights violations.” 

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza queues at a polling station during the presidential, legislative and communal council…
FILE – Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza queues at a polling station during elections, under the simmering political violence and the growing threat of the coronavirus, in Ngozi, Burundi, May 20, 2020.

President Pierre Nkurunziza died of cardiac arrest on June 8, after a brief hospitalization, while his wife was in Kenya undergoing medical treatment. A number of news outlets report he died of the coronavirus. 

Commission chair Diene says gross, widespread human rights violations continue in Burundi and that it would be premature to make any pronouncements on the possible evolution of the situation under the new government. 

He said, “We solemnly urge the new president of the republic to demonstrate his willingness for change by fully cooperating with the international human rights mechanisms. The immediate release of the four journalists of Iwacu, of human rights defenders … would be a significant gesture of this.” {see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/05/burundi-elections-start-with-convicting-4-journalists/]

Burundi’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Renovat Gabu, rejects the commission’s report. He accuses the commission of interfering in the domestic affairs of his country and of slandering and insulting public authorities with the blessing of the U.N. council. 

Human Rights Watch

Letter to President Ndayishimiye: Protecting Human Rights in Burundi, 13 July, 2020

Re: Protecting Human Rights in Burundi

… We have reported on human rights concerns in Burundi since 1995. We are writing to raise important concerns and share our recommendations on steps your government should take to advance and protect human rights in Burundi. We hope that you will address these issues and make the protection and promotion of human rights a top priority throughout your presidency. We urge you to work to make systemic changes to end the violence and abuse, fueled by widespread impunity, that have plagued the country for far too long, especially since 2015.

While we regret the former administration’s withdrawal of Burundi from the International Criminal Court, which took effect in 2017, we are encouraged by the commitments stated in your inaugural speech to reform the judiciary and ensure that all government or other officials who commit offenses are held accountable. Your assurances that measures will be taken to protect victims and witnesses are critical to delivering this promise, as is your commitment to ensuring that corruption will not be tolerated….

To address these challenges and demonstrate a real commitment to promoting rights and turning the page on decades of violence, abuse, mismanagement, and impunity, we urge you to take the following steps during your first year in office:

  1. Remove from security services posts and other executive branches, officials who have been credibly implicated in serious human rights violations, according to reports by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, the UN Human Rights Council, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ fact-finding mission report, and Burundian and international human rights organizations. Ensure that no one who may be subject to criminal or other investigation into human rights abuses is in a position to influence that investigation.
  2. Instruct the security forces, the local administrators, and the Imbonerakure to stop extortion, the use of forced labor, beatings, arbitrary arrests, threats, harassment, and collection of contributions for state-led projects. Order the Imbonerakure and other officials to dismantle all unauthorized roadblocks.
  3. Direct the Justice Ministry to thoroughly and impartially investigate past grave violations of human rights with a view to appropriately prosecuting current and former state security officers and government officials who were responsible for serious criminal offenses. These include National Defense Force and police extrajudicial executions of 47 civilians, members of armed groups and other suspected opponents between December 30, 2014, and January 3, 2015 in Cibitoke province; police use of excessive force in a crackdown on protests in 2015; violence against suspected opponents after the protests; allegations of extrajudicial executions by members of the security forces on December 11, 2015 ; torture and ill treatment of suspected opponents by national intelligence agents and police in since 2015; and extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests of suspected opponents by national intelligence agents, police, and Imbonerakure members since 2015, including during the periods leading up to the constitutional referendum in 2018 and the elections held earlier this year.
  4. Ensure a thorough and independent investigation into the crimes and abuses committed by the Imbonerakure. These investigations should lead to fair and transparent prosecutions, and your government should ensure that your party’s youth league is disarmed and not used for any official state security or similar duties.
  5. End all political interference in the judicial system, facilitate victims’ access to justice, and ensure progress on emblematic cases. This should include the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners jailed for exercising their fundamental rights, including Germain Rukuki, Nestor Nibitanga, Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi
  6. Fully protect everyone’s rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association in accordance with international standards. Lift the suspension on the operations of independent media and human rights organizations, and ensure journalists and human rights activists who are in exile can return safely. Members and supporters of political parties, Burundian and international journalists, and Burundian and international human rights defenders should be able to conduct their work freely, criticize government policies, and organize peaceful protests without fear of intimidation, reprisals, harassment, arrests, or the excessive use of force by the security forces.
  7. Cooperate with and support regional and international human rights mechanisms and treaties, and act to ensure that Burundian law adequately reflects international human rights commitments. This should include full cooperation with the UN Human Rights Council’s special procedures, including giving the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi unfettered access to the country; the resumption of cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; finalization of a memorandum of understanding with the African Union’s human rights observer mission and ensuring the observers get unfettered access to the country and its detention facilities; and allow international NGOs to operate without interference.
  8. Ratify the Rome Statute and align national legislation provisions to cooperate promptly and fully with the International Criminal Court as a court of last resort. Cooperate with the ongoing ICC investigations into alleged crimes against humanity committed in Burundi or by nationals of Burundi outside Burundi until 26 October 2017.

https://www.voanews.com/africa/un-investigators-skeptical-reform-promises-new-burundi-president

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/15/letter-president-ndayishimiye-protecting-human-rights-burundi

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