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Burundi / Transitional justice: “Focus on pardon risks undermining justice and reconciliation” – UN expert

BUJUMBURA / GENEVA (16 December 2014) – “The promise of truth and justice still needs to be fulfilled in Burundi fourteen years after the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement,” United Nations expert on transitional justice Pablo de Greiff said today at the end of his first official visit* to the country.

“Burundi has achieved some degree of stability that can act as the foundation of future development, but which can easily be imperiled,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, in light of the up-coming elections. “Development is not only a question of economic growth; indeed justice and human rights lie at its core.”
 
For development to be sustainable, Mr. de Greiff pointed to the need to address claims for truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition, while acknowledging the strides already made by the country. Since gaining independence in 1962, Burundi has experienced several periods and incidents of grave violence and massive human rights abuses, often ethnically motivated.

“There is a great risk that the focus on pardons will distract the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from its essential truth-seeking function. The objectives of the newly established Commission should not be about pardons only”, he stressed. “Reconciliation at the society level requires first and foremost the establishment of facts to uncover the truth.”

“For the Commission to be credible, it will be imperative to genuinely involve civil society, and to signal openness and accessibility to victims, regardless of their ethnic identity or political affiliation”, the UN expert said.

However, Mr. de Greiff noted, transitional justice cannot be reduced to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission only: “Immediate attention should be given to victims’ assistance programmes focusing on elderly and infirm widows, orphans, internally displaced persons or other marginalized groups. Their needs cannot wait for the Commission to finish its work.” This assistance, as well as future comprehensive reparations programmes should include support for education.

“The Government should not further postpone the question on how to proceed with the judicial investigations for past mass crimes. Temporary immunities have in practice become a great obstacle to criminal justice,” the Special Rapporteur underlined. “Gathering of relevant evidence and documentation should be done immediately, with special attention given to sexual and gender-based violence.”
 
Concerning guarantees of non-recurrence, the independent expert commended accomplishments in the demobilization of ex-combatants and the integration of large number of them into the military and police. “Additional initiatives are required to further professionalize the military and police forces as well as the intelligence agency, strengthen the autonomy and civilian oversight and to screen out those who have problematic human rights records,” he said. 

Recalling results of the recent ‘etats généraux’, the Special Rapporteur stressed the need to resume the work on constitutional and legislative amendments to diminish the possibility of executive interference in the administration of justice, thereby enhancing the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

“The existence of parallel narratives concerning the recent past of Burundi, in particular on the many periods of violence, remains a serious obstacle for the prevention of new violations,” the expert warned. “History teaching based on established facts must be a priority.”

During his visit the Special Rapporteur met with Government officials, representatives of the legislative and judicial branches, law enforcement and other security officials, a broad range of civil society actors, and representatives of the UN and the diplomatic community. He travelled to meet and discuss with victims of past massive violations related to incidents that occurred in Bugendana, Gatumba, Itaba, Kibimba, Kimina and Nyambeho.

The Special Rapporteur will prepare a report with his observations and recommendations to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15426&LangID=E

A human rights expert from Colombia, Pablo de Greiff has extensive professional and academic expertise on transitional justice issues, including on the four measures under this mandate (justice, truth, reparations, and guarantees on non-recurrence). He has worked with different transitional justice bodies across the world and has provided advice to a number of Governments and multilateral institutions on international policy, transitional justice, and on the linkages between justice, security and development. He has also collaborated with numerous NGOs working with victims in many countries.
Mr. de Greiff has published widely on the issues pertaining to his mandate and lectured in prominent universities. He was the Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice from 2001 to 2014.

Mr. de Greiff was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence in 2012. As a Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/TruthJusticeReparation/Pages/Index.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Burundi:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/BIIndex.aspx 

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