Posts Tagged ‘MEA Laureate 2007’

The story of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa: a survivor from Burundi

May 27, 2019

On 24 May 2019 Open Democracy published another long piece on an inspiring human rights defender – in cooperation with the Fund for Global Human Rights.  In “How international solidarity saved an activist’s life in BurundiAntoine Kaburahe describes the story of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, the laureate of the Martin Ennals Award 2007. [http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/pierre-claver-mbonimpa-2/]. The author was personally involved in the case and the piece is a good example of how international solidairy can save lives.

A man standing beside children in green clothing
Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa visiting minors detained in prison
..Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was the founder of a human rights organisation, APRODH, in his home country of Burundi, and it had worrying information: the ruling party was secretly distributing weapons to its youth wing. APRODH had also investigated the military training of young Burundians across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Burundians had been involved in a long-running conflict – without unofficial support from their government. In 2014 Mbonimpa had been imprisoned by the Burundian authorities, which accused him of “smearing the government and lying”. Thanks to an international mobilisation, including a call from Barack Obama, then US president, he had been released on parole, but the regime kept an eye on him…..Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa was used to threats. But that day, the killers meant them. It was in the evening that the news dropped. Pierre-Claver had been shot. Word spread rapidly: ‘Mutama’, the ‘old man’, as he is affectionately called, is well-known and respected for his commitment to human rights in Burundi…

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa remembers well what had happened. He had been in his car with his driver. “I saw behind us a motorcycle that was riding at a breakneck speed. The bike got to us at a fast pace. The man shot four bullets. The shooting was almost close-range. A bullet hit me on the neck and blood spurted.” Bleeding heavily, he was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. I went there to see what was happening: at the time I was still a journalist in Burundi before being myself forced into exile. The crowd was already at Bujumbura Central Polyclinic.

Security guards sent by various embassies came to ensure my safety at the Polyclinic, because there was a rumour that I was going to be killed in my hospital bed,” says Pierre-Claver. “All the embassies worked in synergy for my evacuation. “Despite my weakness, my pain, I would like to say that I saw a great surge of solidarity at that moment,” says Pierre-Claver. “In my room I saw distinguished individuals such as diplomats of the African Union, those of the European Union and ambassadors.

It was clear to his supporters that Pierre-Claver needed to leave the country immediately. Currently in Belgium as a refugee, [his daughter] Zygène Mbonimpa remembers with overwhelming emotion the support of The Fund for Global Human Rights: “Doctors quickly noticed that Mutama had been seriously affected. He needed care he could not find in Burundi. And then, we were afraid he would be finished off on his hospital bed. I wrote to Tony Tate [programme officer at the Fund] and his reaction was quick. He agreed to pay for flight tickets, and the organisation also contributed to the payment of hospitalisation costs in Burundi.”

Tate confirms Zygène’s account... I immediately sought approval from my directors and board members to make an emergency grant,” he says. “We were able to wire the money to APRODH’s account within 24 hours. After the money arrived, it became clear that Pierre-Claver would receive other money and assistance from other funders as well. The money The Fund provided was combined with others to pay for the travel costs of one of his family members to accompany him to Brussels.

That financial support was critical. The Belgian embassy had agreed to give Pierre-Claver a visa, but the family had to find air fares in a very short time. “Without this support, we would have had a big problem to raise this money while Dad’s life was in a very critical condition,” says Zygène. Tate says he was pleased that the Fund was able to respond to the incident and ensure the safety of one of its long-time partners: “My hope was that the family would see that as an organisation, we stand by our grantees in good times and in bad,” he says. “As a human rights funder, we have an ethical responsibility to provide emergency funding when activists we support are in danger. Human rights work is inherently risky and those who support it must stand ready to respond quickly when defenders are in need.”

In Brussels, Pierre-Claver was quickly operated on. Doctors first fastened a metal frame on his head to hold his skull together. He spent 121 days in hospital, fed by serum and then a kind of porridge, as he could not open his mouth or chew food. He sat in an armchair, unable to lie down, and his weight went down from 82 kg to 54 kg. But his ordeal did not stop there. As they had missed him, those who wanted to kill him went after his family. First, his son-in-law, Pascal Nshirimana, was killed, and while he was still in the hospital, his son Weli, 24, was also killed. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/12/mea-laureate-mbonimpa-has-message-of-hope-at-his-sons-funeral/]

Through all this, the now seventy-year-old activist has remained a man guided by peace and justice. We have never heard him speak of revenge…

Always on the phone, Pierre-Claver continues to encourage teams on the ground. He also travels very often in the sub-region. “It is important that the international community continues to support independent human rights organisations in Burundi,” he says, “because with the closure of UN organisations and the ban on international media including the BBC, there is a risk that human rights violations will be committed behind closed doors. Organisations such as APRODH still have focal points. But they need means to work.”

Pierre-Claver remains modest and accessible despite two honorary doctorates by major Belgian universities and several international awards. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/17/mbonimpa-wins-also-the-2017-civil-courage-prize/]. Asked what he thinks of those who tried to kill him, he simply answers: “I forgave those who shot me and those who killed my son and my son-in-law. But I want justice. If the assassins were arrested, I would be happy to see justice doing its job. For my part, I will not ask for any compensation. What would they give me for the death of my child and my son-in-law?

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/frontline-insights/how-international-solidarity-saved-an-activists-life-in-burundi/

MEA Laureate Mbonimpa has message of hope at his son’s funeral

November 12, 2015

Since I published my post about MEA Laureate Pierre Claver Mbonimpa two days ago (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/burundi-what-more-early-warning-does-one-need/) the situation has not improved and the hope is that the UN will find the muscle to impose itself. In the meantime, the Huffington Post of 12 November carries a long piece on Mbonimpa and his Burundi by Charlotte Alfred under the title “Burundi’s Human Rights Legend Urges Hope After His Son’s Killing“.

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is founder and president of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees in Burundi.</span>

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa founder and president of the APRODH in Burundi (CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa wasn’t able to attend his son’s funeral. Instead, he sent a message from Belgium, which was read out at the funeral of his son, Welly Nzitonda, on Tuesday, according to independent journalist network SOS Médias Burundi: “Do not lose courage … The tragedies we face will end with a resolution of the conflict in Burundi.

……..

“The problem that plagues the country is not ethnicity, but politics,” Mbonimpa told the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010. “It is politicians who manipulate the population in pursuit of power.”

For the full article, worth reading, see: Burundi’s Human Rights Legend Urges Hope After His Son’s Killing

OHCHR expresses concern about fate of human rights defenders in Burundi

May 16, 2015

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the following statement after the failed coup d’etat in Burundi:

“We are very concerned by developments in Burundi over the past two days, and call on all armed forces and non-state actors to refrain from taking actions which may endanger the lives of civilians and to ensure their protection from the effects of conflict. There is a clear risk that the instability may be prolonged, or even made worse, if there are violent reprisals.

We have received reports of numerous attacks on both private and state media with radio and television stations destroyed, endangering the lives of the journalists who were still inside them at the time. We call for a re-opening of all media outlets and the respect of the independence of journalists. There is also an urgent need to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and journalists. To give just one example, one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights defenders, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa [Laureate of the MEA in 2007 – ed], has had to go into hiding after receiving death threats.

Those who incite or engage in acts of mass violence are liable to be prosecuted by competent judicial bodies, as reflected in the recent statement by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

We are also very concerned that political instability and reports of intimidation of civilians could result in an even greater humanitarian crisis. There is a significant increase of refugees fleeing Burundi to neighbouring countries, with reports of rapidly deteriorating sanitary conditions in some locations where large numbers of refugees have gathered, such as Kagunga in Tanzania.”

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/high-commissioner-leaves-burundi-and-the-repression-goes-up/

via OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING NOTE – (1) South East Asia / migrants boats (2) Burundi (3) International Day against Homophobia & Transphobia » Press releases » News – StarAfrica.com – News – StarAfrica.com.

High Commissioner leaves Burundi and the repression goes up…

April 29, 2015

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (second left) at a roundtable discussion during his mission to Burundi.Photo: UN Electoral Observation Mission in Burundi (MENUB)
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights left Burundi on 15 April with a final exhortation that “Burundian parties must choose the path to democracy and the rule of law“. Only a week later the authorities increased their crackdown on dissent to silence those who oppose a third term for the President.
This is a critical moment in Burundi’s history,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein during his mission to Burundi. “Its future may well depend on which path is chosen by individual politicians and their supporters, as well as various key authorities, over the next few weeks.”… “And history – and possibly national or international courts – will judge those who kill, bribe or intimidate their way to power.

He pointed out that recent events were of great concern, with tensions rising sharply over the past few months as the elections approach, reportedly stoked by an increase in politically motivated harassment, intimidation and acts of violence, as well as a reported rise in hate speech. He pointed to “extreme examples of hate speech” heard at a pro-Government political rally in Bujumbura and several examples of attacks on and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

“I will put it bluntly,” he said “As I prepared for this mission, I talked to many knowledgeable people, within and outside the UN, in Geneva and New York. They were all, without exception, alarmed about the direction the country appears to be taking. The Secretary-General has signalled his concerns, and so has the Security Council.”

He cited the main cause for concern as the pro-Government militia called the Imbonerakure, which he said appeared to be operating increasingly aggressively and with total impunity. People were fleeing the country, with up to 1,000 people per day crossing into Rwanda, and many of those leaving telling UN officials that their reason for leaving is fear of the Imbonerakure.

Mr. Zeid said the Government needed to send a clear message that extremism and impunity would no longer prevail and he added that all political demonstrations needed to be treated equally and in accordance with international laws and standards relating to freedom of assembly. Opposition politicians needed to play a part, too, refraining from inflation or exaggeration of facts to whip up anti-Government support and feed a climate of fear. They also needed to ensure that their supporters protest peacefully, and do not indulge in hate speech or react violently to perceived provocations. He said he had held several meetings since arriving in Burundi on Sunday, including with the country’s top officials, as well as civil society organizations, the National Human Rights Institution (CNIDH), foreign diplomats, opposition politicians, and key State institutions such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission, and the President of the Constitutional Court. “During the course of these meetings and discussions, it was very clear that many people here are also extremely worried,” …. “Ultimately, it is the authorities who have the obligation to protect all citizens and residents from intimidation and violence committed by any individual or group. They must also accept that criticism is a vital element of democracy, not a threat that must be crushed.”

A week later Front Line Defenders and the African defenders network EHAHRDP reported inter alia:

  • a clampdown on human rights defenders and journalists by Burundian authorities in connection with ongoing protests against President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term widely deemed unconstitutional by Burundi’s civil society (with AP reporting 6 people killed at demonstrations over the weekend)
  • on 27 April 2015, human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was arrested and released a day later without charge after being held in police custody approximately 48 hours [Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, Laureate of the MEA 2007, is the President of the Burundi Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (APRODH). He is also a member of the coalition “Halt to Nkurunziza’s third term”, a peaceful campaign which was launched in January 2015 by several civil organisations to oppose a third presidential term].  In May 2014, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was also arrested and much later released [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/news-from-burundi-release-of-human-rights-defender-pierre-claver-mbonimpa/].
  • an arrest warrant seems also to have been issued against human rights defenders Messrs Pacifique Nininahazwe and Vital Nshimirimana from the Forum for the Strenghtening of Civil Society (FORSC), who are perceived as leading organisers of the campaign against the Nkurunziza’s third term.
  • state authorities forcibly closed the Bujumbura and Ngozi offices of the African Public Radio (Radio Publique Africaine – RPA), a private radio station of Burundi known for dealing with human rights-related issues
  • 0n Monday morning, police forcibly closed the Media Synergy Press Conference that was taking place at Maison de la Presse in Bujumbura.

The risks facing human rights defenders in Burundi, as well as the wider civilian population, are now at critical proportions,” said EHAHRDP’s director Hassan Shire.

https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/special-rapporteur-in-burundi-respect-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders-like-mbonimpa/

http://www.defenddefenders.org/2015/04/burundi-unprecedented-state-assault-on-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists/

United Nations News Centre – UN rights chief urges Burundi’s politicians to pick right path at ‘critical moment’ in country’s history.

Special Rapporteur in Burundi: respect the work of Human Rights Defenders like Mbonimpa!

November 25, 2014

(Independent Expert on Human Rights Michel Forst. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré)

On 25 November 2014 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, expressed regret today that defenders in Burundi are deemed to be political opponents, saying that in reality they are activists working to promote and protect human rights and civil liberties. In a press release issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michel Forst, emphasized that threats and defamation campaigns by certain media outlets weigh on human rights defenders, who also report a high number of cases of physical threats, anonymous phone calls, assaults, arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment.

Read the rest of this entry »

News from Burundi: Release of human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

September 30, 2014

Yesterday, 29 September 2014, human rights defender Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was conditionally released from prison on grounds of ill health in Burundi. [He was arrested on 16 Mat this year: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/alert-mea-laureate-2007-pierre-claver-mbonimpa-arrested-in-burundi/]

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is the President of the Burundi Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and of Detained Persons (Association Burundaise pour la Promotion des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues APRODH), one of the most active human rights organisations in Burundi. For several years, the human rights defender has documented torture and the poor conditions of detention in prisons, and has campaigned against extra-judicial killings in the country. Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was the MEA Laureate in 2007.

MEA Laureate Mbonimpa, Burundi

MEA Laureate Mbonimpa, Burundi

Only two weeks ago the High Court of Bujumbura had still rejected a request by his defense lawyers for his provisional release due to serious illness. However, the court had ordered the establishment of a medical commission to assess the health of the human rights defender (see http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/27199> . As conditions of his release, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to travel beyond the borders of Bujumbura city, nor is he permitted to be in the proximity of the airport, train station or ports without judicial authorisation. Moreover, the human rights defender must appear before the judge when required.

On 18 September the European Parliament adopted a resolution which condemned Mbonimpa’s detention and deemed it “representative of the mounting risks facing human rights defenders” in Burundi. The resolution also called on the EU High Representative and the 28 EU Member States to ensure “a clear and principled EU policy vis a vis Burundi that addresses the on-going serious human rights violations” in the country.  http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/09/19/dispatches-european-parliament-stands-mbonimpa-burundi

 

To read more about the case of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/PierreClaverMbonimpa