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‘Tradition of impunity’ threatens Burundi’s future, renders free elections impossible – UN expert warns

GENEVA (19 June 2015) – The calendar for democratic elections in Burundi can only be determined by successfully establishing conditions for people to freely express their choice, said United Nations expert on transitional justice Pablo de Greiff. In an open statement* published today, he called for the fullest attention of the international community to the current situation in Burundi.

Mr. de Greiff, who visited Burundi last December, highlighted in his statement “the authorities’ blatant failures to respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the pre-conditions for any credible democratic society.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, warned that “the governing political party and its youth militia use violence, threats, gross limitations of press freedoms and hate speech to deliberately intimidate people and to obtain a particular electoral outcome.” 

“Voters must be free to support or to oppose any political party, including the ruling party, without undue influence or coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of the elector’s will,” he said, recalling the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, acceded to by Burundi in 1990. “Elections confer legitimacy only under the assumption that voters can express their will freely.”

The expert stressed that democratic legitimacy does not flow from elections alone in the absence of other guarantees. He warned that those guarantees enshrined in the 2005 Constitution have been deliberately circumvented. “It is deeply deplorable that the Burundian authorities have departed sharply from the transition to a rule of law based society, after all the major achievements that had been made since 2000,” he said. 

“The conditions that enable legitimate elections call for on-going opportunities to present ideas and proposals in an even playing field. This requires not only the absence of coercion and repression, but also for access to media and the possibility to organize meetings,” the expert added.

“In Burundi, the neglected violent past has become a major obstacle for the country’s future,” Mr. de Greiff said, drawing attention to “the lack of transparency in political parties, the instrumentalization of, or outright disregard for, the judiciary, the absence of respect for the rights of citizens, and the increased manipulation of ethnicity.”

The Special Rapporteur call for a break with Burundi’s ‘tradition of impunity’, which manifests itself yet again in the problems around the elections. “The ignored past is ensnaring the present and threatening the country’s future. Urgent measures are called for in order to guarantee the non-recurrence of gross violations,” he concluded.  
Looking forward, Mr. de Greiff called for the creation of real opportunities to uncover the truth of past massive violations and abuses, among other immediate measures.

The independent expert urged all sides to refrain from violence and threats, and to ensure that any protest remain peaceful. He also called on all parties to work constructively together to ensure that Burundi will return to the encouraging path it had taken since the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s Open Statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16098&LangID=E
Watch the video: https://youtu.be/b_EaoAKh1fQ 

Pablo de Greiff (Colombia) 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. He 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). Mr. de Greiff 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 was the Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice from 2001 to 2014. As of June 2015, Mr. de Greiff is Director of the Project on Transitional Justice of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the NYU School of Law. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/TruthJusticeReparation/Pages/Index.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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

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