Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review
Third session meeting highlights
2 December 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Burundi this morning, during which 41 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
Presenting the national report of Burundi was IMMACULÉE NAHAYO, Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, who noted that after many years of war and uncertainty Burundi was gradually returning to peace and democratic legitimacy. Following the Arusha Accord in 28 August 2000 through which Burundi had agreed to establish a new international order. The new Constitution was adopted by a popular referendum in March 2005. The Constitution incorporated the provision of the Human Rights Bill of Rights – ICCPR and ICESCR - and the African Charter on Human Rights, as well as other key international conventions. Burundians took part in general elections after which democratic institutions were established in August 2005. Burundi was party to several international instruments allowing for the enjoyment of human rights. The Government had made a considerable effort to ratifying additional instruments aiming to uphold both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.
The protection of human rights in Burundi continued to improve, she added. Several efforts had been undertaken by the Government to improve standards of living for Burundians and to eradicate poverty, following many years of war and economic crisis. In the field of education and health the Government was mindful of the fact that the enjoyment of these rights was integral to the enjoyments of other basic rights. Primary education was free for all, since 2005. A broad programme was underway in Burundi to improve school infrastructure. The primary school enrolment had increased by 69% from 2005 to 2008. With respect to health, the Government had begun to make health services free for the population. Among other things, free health services drugs were provided for those infected with HIV/AIDS, free vaccinations for children, free assistance for the undernourished, among other things. A number of measures had also bee taken to respect the right to work. The Government was campaigning against unemployment to order to embark on a national employment policy. Wages had been increased and subsidies had been allocated for housing, among other things. In terms of social protection, a number of technical services had been established and a new bill had just been adopted by Parliament with respect to social services.
With respect to the right to life, the new Criminal Code, soon to be enforced, set out to abolished the death penalty, the Minister affirmed. A general dismantling and disarmament campaign was now envisaged in the near future per this new legislative measure. The new Code also criminalized all acts of torture and ill treatment and called for compensation to victims of such acts and aimed to bring those responsible for these acts to justice. In the case of freedom of the press, the media was able to work freely in Burundi; all previously imposed sanctions against the press had been lifted. Burundi had made positive progress in a number of respects in terms of women and girls, she added. The difference of age between boys and girls for legal marriage age no longer exists in Burundi. The new Penal Code made acts of violence against women punishable by law, including acts of rape. Married women no longer needed the consent of their husbands to work. On the right to minorities, there were a number of seats allocated in the Government and Parliament for members of the minority groups.
The independent National Commission Human Rights would soon be functional in January 2009, she stated. The entry into force of the new Criminal Code would also make it possible to effectively address human rights violations. Administrative measures had also been undertaken to ensure that the police and judges were educated and trained on human rights matters. As was the case for any country recently emerging from civil conflict, Burundi had seen a regression in the value of human rights. In order to meet the many challenges which arose in the aftermath of the conflict, there has been a need for training for a large section of the population. Technological and resource deficiencies for State workers meant that these values were lagging behind. Excessive poverty of the population had also been a source of human rights violations. In response, a strategic framework for combating poverty had been drafted. There were also gaps in human rights legislation; therefore there was a need to draft proper legislation in this area. Burundi was counting on its development partners to help it realize the various challenges facing the country.
During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the efforts taken in rebuilding social infrastructure; positive steps taken since the signing of the Arusha agreement and towards national reconciliation; concerted efforts taken to reintegrate and rehabilitate child soldiers; steps taken to promote education; the provision of free education and schooling; the steps taken to abolish the death penalty; the drafting of the new Criminal Code; the drafting of a new constitution; steps to tackle corruption; Burundi’s cooperation with UN and other international partners to protect and promote human rights; the accession to a number of international human rights treaties; and the State’s programme for the prevention of genocide and the eradication of the ideology of genocide.
Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the establishment of Burundi’s National Commission on Human Rights and whether it was in line with the Paris Principles; the timing for establishing the commission; training programmes aimed at human rights trained for State officials; the main needs and forward looking steps in the process of consolidation of peace; and measures envisaged stopping the recruitment of child soldiers. Other question covered the specific difficulties encountered in terms of the right to food and expected assistance from the international community; and the role of the national employment observatory in addressing unemployment.
A number of delegations called on Burundi to take all measures to investigate and stamp out cases of torture. Other asked for information about revisions envisaged to the new criminal code aimed at prohibiting all acts of torture and mistreatment; the practical consequences of new legislation abolishing acts of torture; rehabilitation for victims of torture; and how Burundi intended to improve prison infrastructure and conditions of detention.
Questions were also raised with regard to the measures taken by the State to address cases of rape; preventive measures envisaged to impede and to put an end to domestic violence; measures taken to allow women’s participation in social and political life and to eliminate acts of discrimination against them; steps to combat impunity for those committing human rights violation, particularly sexual violence; information on women’s rights to inheritance; and concrete steps taken in the promotion and the fulfilment of the rights of the child, the rights of women and to combat all forms of discrimination.
Additional information was sought on measures intended to combat violence against journalists and measures envisaged dealing with cases of freedom of expression, in general; whether Burundi would like to accept support form States to deal with cases of arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances; plans intended to end impunity for crimes; steps take to guarantee the independent of the judiciary; the balance between national reconciliation efforts and efforts to punish criminals; and progress achieved in the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission or a special tribunal as recommended by Security Council resolution 1606 of 2005.
A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To adopt legislation to guarantee gender equality, especially with respect to the right of the family and inheritance law; to take the necessary steps to amend the law on family, inheritance and the criminal code to bring them in line with the principles set pout in the CEDAW; to increase its efforts in the area of gender equality; and to withdraw its provision in the new Criminal Code to ensure that human rights were extended to all people regardless of sexual orientation.
Furthermore, delegations called on the Burundi Government to commit itself to addressing all forms of violence against women; to better train its law enforcement officials to allow for better follow up on sexual violence crimes; to give clear and immediate instructions to high ranking police, security and law enforcement officials to treat rape as a crime and take all measures to effectively investigate acts of rape and all other forms of sexual violence and bring the perpetrators to justice; to rapidly implement to new draft criminal code to ensure that acts of sexual violence were adequately addressed; to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on violence against women; and to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol of CEDAW.
Other recommendations called on the Government to take further measures to improve the situation of children, especially former child soldiers and also in view of cases of child labour; to develop and implement policies and measures to address the inequality between boys and girls regarding the access to education and the reported widespread child labour; to strengthen efforts to ensure that all children are registered at birth; and to include in the school system appropriate measures of human rights education.
Additionally, the Working Group recommended that the Government take steps to fully abolish the death penalty; to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to ban holding people in secret detention; to fully comply with the Convention against Torture and do its utmost to ensure that law enforcement officials worked within the framework of the law; to establish a policy to rehabilitate victims of torture; to ensure that human rights training was mandatory for all law enforcement officials; to establish transitional justice mechanisms as a key element for the administration of justice and re-establishment of the rule of law; to take all measures to address issues of impunity; and to ensure a well-functioning and independent judicial system.
Recommendation also included to fully respect the freedom of expression; to use mediation procedures to qualm conflicts with the media; to allow for all political parties to carry out their activities without restrictions; to increase its budget allocations for health to reach the 15% target set by States at the “Strategic Health Framework for Africa”; to consider strengthening programmes of to combat and prevent HIV/AIDS, with special attention to women and children; and to reinforce measures to heighten awareness of the problems facing the albino population in Burundi.
Others included to prioritize the consultations to establish transitional justice mechanisms to ensure that reconciliation and justice may address the most serious crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide; to establish a truth and reconciliation commission; to continue efforts to implement the ceasefire agreement of 2006; for the international community to increase its support Burundi to allow it to respect it human rights undertakings; to heighten its disarmament efforts; to consider the possibility of ratifying the Convention on forced disappearances; to speed up the process of setting up the independent National Commission on Human Rights and to ensure it was in line with the Paris Principles; to extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures of the United Nations system; and to ensure that political rights of all parties were safeguarded in view of the upcoming elections in 2010.
Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Italy, China, Switzerland, Cameroon, Brazil, Djibouti, Japan, Canada, Burkina Faso, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Korea, Senegal, South Africa, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Egypt, Nigeria and Bangladesh.
Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Australia, Sudan, Luxembourg, Belgium, Czech Republic, the Holy See, Latvia, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Benin and Rwanda.
The eight-person delegation of Burundi consisted of representatives of the Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Security and the Permanent Mission of Burundi to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Burundi are Mauritius, India and Cuba.
In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Burundi can be found here.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Burundi on Thursday, 4 December.
When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Luxembourg.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp