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Oral briefing of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

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17 محرم, 1440

Human Rights Council, Thirty-ninth session

Interactive Dialogue on Burundi

Geneva, 17 September 2018

Mr. President,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we have the honour to present our final report, which concludes the second term of our mandate, renewed by resolution 36/19 of 29 September 2017.

Since this date, our investigations have allowed us to collect more than 400 testimony from victims and/or witnesses of human rights violations in neighbouring countries of Burundi, as well as remotely from Burundians still residing in the country. We would like to convey our thanks to Belgium, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania for allowing us to carry out missions on their territory. We also appreciated our meetings, in particular with commissioners, at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The Commission notes with regret the decision of the Burundian Government to declare its members persona non grata. The Commission reaffirms its determination to implement the mandate entrusted to it by the Human Rights Council and, in this regard, remains open to cooperate with Burundian authorities. In this context, the Commission invites the international community and all relevant stakeholders to read its final report.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 400 testimonies we have collected are in addition to the 500 and so interviews we had already conducted last year. They allowed us to confirm the persistence of the main serious human rights violations that we identified during the first term of our mandate, namely: extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments, sexual violence and violations of civil liberties, in particular freedoms of expression, association, assembly and movement.

These violations, some of which constitute crimes against humanity, were committed in a context of intensification of forceful recruitment of the Burundian population into the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD in acronym), and its youth league, the Imbonerakure, ahead and during the campaign for the referendum to amend the Constitution.

Similar to 2015 and 2016, the persons targeted were mainly opponents of the Government and/or the CNDD-FDD or perceived as such: members or supporters of opposition political parties (in particular the National Liberation Forces - Agathon Rwasa wing and the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy); supporters of armed opposition groups; Burundians attempting to flee the country; journalists and members of civil society organizations. These violations have had lasting psychological and physical effects on the victims. These violations also had multiple consequences on their entourage, especially their wives and children who, in some cases, were threatened, attacked and sometimes victims of violations themselves, such as sexual violence.

These conclusions are consistent with the findings of the United Nations Security Council, which issued a statement on 22 August 2018 in which it "strongly condemned all violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi" and "reaffirmed the primary responsibility of the Government of Burundi for ensuring security in its territory and protecting its population, with respect for the rule of law, human rights and international humanitarian law, as applicable”.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Commission has found that members, including senior officials, of the National Intelligence Service (Service national de renseignement - SNR) and the police remain, similar to 2015 and 2016, the state agents that are the most involved in the commission of serious human rights violations. This year, the Commission received little information implicating members of the Burundian National Defence Force, although some testimonies continued to emphasize the role played by some senior officials and army officers in serious human rights violations. Administrative authorities have also committed or ordered the commission of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and detentions and ill-treatments.

The Commission is concerned by the growing role played by the Imbonerakure in controlling the population and, in this context, by the numerous testimonies that identify them as the main perpetrators of human rights violations, especially outside Bujumbura.

In this respect, the Commission considers that the fact that the Imbonerakure do not have State agent status does not preclude the classification of the unlawful acts they commit as "violations", thereby entailing the responsibility of the State. Indeed, in several cases, the Imbonerakure acted under the orders and supervision of state agents. During meetings at local level between SNR, police, ruling party and/or Imbonerakure officials, opponents of the Government or the CNDD-FDD or persons perceived as such were identified with the objective of apprehending and/or making them disappear. Weapons and/or military equipment were distributed to the Imbonerakure, including under the supervision of senior army and police officials. Physical and military training has also been organized.

Given that the Imbonerakure have been involved in a wide range of enforcement activities, including some within the purview of the Government; have in a number of cases acted autonomously but with a freedom of action afforded by the authorities; and have continued to enjoy near-total impunity, the Commission is of the view that the Burundian State is responsible for the wrongful acts committed by the Imbonerakure, since it exercises overall effective control.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The climate of disregard for human rights in Burundi continues to be fomented by repeated calls for hatred and violence by authorities, including the Head of State and members of CNDD-FDD, and by an overall context of impunity.

In this regard, the Commission conducted a detailed study of the Burundian judicial system1 , particularly the criminal justice system, which indicates that the judiciary in Burundi is not independent, and has not been so for several years. The executive branch frequently issues orders and otherwise interferes, either to protect members of CNDD-FDD and the Imbonerakure by having them acquitted or released, or to have opponents of the Government convicted and imprisoned. The use of the broadly and vaguely defined offence of “undermining the internal security of the State” to prosecute opponents has given rise to numerous abuses. The rights of accused persons are routinely violated. The Commission also received several testimonies indicating that magistrates and lawyers have been subjected to threats and intimidation.

These findings cast doubt on the short-term capacity of the Burundian justice system to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes under international law in Burundi. On the basis of complementarity, the International Criminal Court could fill this gap, but only partially since it has jurisdiction exclusively for crimes under international law committed from April 2015 to 27 October 2017.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This climate of disregard for civil and political rights has also had a direct impact on the enjoyment of economic and social rights by much of the population. The political and human rights crisis that began in April 2015 has further weakened a country in which 64.6 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 20142 . In 2016, Burundi went from a developing country to a country in a state of humanitarian emergency. One million people in February 2016 needed shelter, water, hygiene, sanitation, education, nutrition, protection, health and food security. This number increased to 3.6 million in early 2018. 

Given this situation, the Government of Burundi aggravated the economic challenges of a majority of the population and compromised their right to an adequate standard of living by raising taxes, introducing new ones and subjecting Burundians to the payment of contributions without any legal basis and often collected by force, such as the "contribution for the 2020 elections". In addition, the Burundian government has not redirected its domestic resources to give priority to social spending, the demand for which has steadily increased. By way of example, the budgets allocated to the National Intelligence Service (SNR), the Special Brigade for the Protection of Institutions and the Unit in Support of the Protection of Institutions (Appui à la protection des institutions), some of whose members have been identified by the Commission as being among the main perpetrators of human rights violations, were increased by 12 per cent, 13.3 per cent and 47.6 per cent, respectively, between 2015 and 2018, while the domestic resources provided to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock were reduced by 27.4 per cent. Poor governance and fraudulent seizure of public property played a role in the misappropriation of resources that the State could have dedicated to satisfying the economic and social rights of the Burundian population.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Against this backdrop, it is urgent that the Government of Burundi puts an end to the human rights violations that persist until today, and prosecutes the perpetrators of these crimes. It is also of the utmost importance that the Government fully cooperates with international human rights mechanisms. Burundi has only accepted 125 out of the 242 recommendations made by member States of this Council in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review of the country. The Government of Burundi should resume the practice of allowing special procedures mandate holders to conduct missions in the country in keeping with the standing invitation extended in 2013, and to cooperate with treaty bodies, which was not the case recently with the Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee. Specifically, the Burundian authorities should respond without undue delay to the sub-committee for the prevention of torture who expressed in July 2018 its intention to conduct missions in the country.

The Commission is concerned to note that, given the suspension since October 2016 of the headquarters agreement of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) office in Burundi; the limited deployment of African Union observers due to the absence of an agreement with the Government; and the Government’s recent lack of cooperation in the implementation of the Human Rights Council resolution mandating OHCHR to send a team of experts in the country; there are no independent international mechanism in Burundi that is in a position to investigate human rights violations.

It is for this reason that the Commission is requesting that its mandate be renewed for one more year. This renewal seems all the more important in light of the preparation for the 2020 elections, especially since those of 2015 were the scene of serious human rights violations. 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The observations made in 2000 in the Arusha Agreement are still valid today. It describes the Burundi conflict as “fundamentally political” and as resulting from “a struggle by the political class to accede to and/or remain in power”3 . It also identifies impunity, the lack of a sound development policy, failure to respect the principles of good governance and human rights and the “non-acceptance of peaceful coexistence, diversity and pluralism” as causes of violence and insecurity in Burundi.4 This assessment should be analysed and it shows how important it is for this Council to maintain the review of the situation in Burundi on its agenda. 

Thank you for your attention.

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1/ See the detailed report of the Commission (A/HRC/39/CRP.1, part III.D).

2/ Data from the Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of Burundi (Institut de statistiques et d’études économiques du Burundi).

3/ Article 4 of Protocol I to the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi.

4/ Article 2 of Protocol III to the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi.


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