13 March 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the first time I am appearing before you as the President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. Mr. Chairman, allow me to take this opportunity to thank you for your trust. I pledge to execute my mandate with the same independence, impartiality and openness with which I have fulfilled the previous mandates entrusted to me by this Council. I would like to pay a special tribute to my predecessor, Fatsah Ouguergouz, as well as Reine Alapini Gansou, for their considerable efforts in carrying out their mission. I look forward to pursuing the work of the Commission with Françoise Hampson and Lucy Asuagbor who has just been appointed as the third commissioner.
Resolution 36/19, adopted last September, renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry as defined in Resolution 33/24 of September 2016. Within this framework, my colleagues and I are going to pursue investigations into human rights violations and abuses as well as crimes under international law committed since April 2015 in Burundi. Additionally, we will seek to establish, to the extent possible, the responsibilities for these acts as well as « engaging with Burundian authorities and other stakeholders »1 as recommended by the Council. With that in mind, we have addressed correspondence to the Burundian Government requesting that they share any relevant information pertaining to the human rights situation in the country. Along the same lines, I am calling on Burundi to review its position and to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Commission. The direct collection by the Commission of fact-based information, analysis and points of view from different stakeholders, including relevant authorities, provides the best guarantee that they will be included in our final report.
This year, the Commission believes it is also appropriate to focus on economic and social rights violations and to analyse in more details the Burundian judiciary as well as other justice mechanisms. This work will allow us to formulate relevant recommendations in these highly important areas to prevent repetition of the multiple crisis that the country has experienced for the last decades.
Furthermore, I wish to thank the representatives of Member States as well as international and regional organizations that we have met for their guidance and, for some of them, for facilitating access to their territories so the Commission can conduct interviews of Burundian refugees. Based on the contacts established with victims and witnesses still in Burundi, the Commission was able to conduct more than 160 interviews, which supplement the 500 conducted last year.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since September last year, the political, security, economic, social and human rights situation has not improved in Burundi. At the political level, the mediation efforts undertaken by the East African Community have not yielded any results to this day despite the organization of a fourth session of the inter-Burundian dialogue in November 2017 under the auspices of the facilitator, his Excellency Benjamin Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania.
The Burundian authorities seem to have adopted a position of non-cooperation with its international partners. Following the announcement of the opening of an investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court last November, the Government of Burundi announced that the country had no intention to collaborate with the Court. It should be noted that as per the Rome Statute, which Burundi was a party to until October 26th 2017, the country is required to cooperate with the Court. The Burundian government also criticized the February 2018 report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Security Council. Furthermore, the Burundian authorities rejected the Humanitarian Response Plan presented by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on February 19th 2018. They argued that the figures highlighted in the document, although based on the same assessment methodologies used elsewhere in the world, were inaccurate. The authorities equally disputed the statistics presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in its annual Regional Response Plan for Burundian refugees launched on February 6th 2018 in Geneva. The Headquarters Agreement between the Burundian Government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is still suspended, a situation that has prevailed since October 2016. Furthermore, during the presentation of the Commission’s report before the United Nations General Assembly in New York in October 2017, my predecessor and my colleagues were the subjects of threats from the Permanent Representative of Burundi.
Civil liberties continue to be severely restricted in Burundi. A significant portion of the political opposition remains in exile as well as a large number of independent journalists and members of organizations engaged in the collection of data on human rights violations. All media houses suspended in 2015, with the exception of two, remain closed to this day. On September 28th 2017, the National Communication Council (CNC) withdrew the operating licences of 10 media groups including RPA and Bonesha FM radio stations and Renaissance Radio Television who have been banned from the airwaves since May 2015. On October 2nd 2017, the CNC also suspended the radio station of the Chamber of Trade and Industry of Burundi, CCIB FM +, for three months following an editorial denouncing the silence of the Government after the massacre of Burundian refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With the exception of those organized by the ruling party, no demonstrations have taken place since the beginning of the political crisis in April 2015. The limitation of democratic space even affects the ruling party. Indeed, the President of the Republic, in a speech on Veterans Day in November 2017, threatened to « straighten » any member of the CNDD-FDD who does not adhere to the party line.
The members of civil society organizations, who are still present in Burundi, are under constant pressure or facing arrest. In November 2017, Police arrested Nestor Nibitanga at his home. He is the former representative of the Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits de l’Homme et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH). Following his arrest, accusations of compromising State security were levelled against him. Based on the information available to the Commission, he is still in detention to this date. In January 2018, the public prosecutor demanded 20 to 25 years of imprisonment against three members of the organization Paroles et actions pour le réveil des consciences et l’évolution des mentalités (PARCEM). These individuals were arrested in June 2017 in possession of documents that identified members of the opposition as reference persons for the organization of a workshop on human rights violations. In February 2018, the public prosecutor’s office in Bujumbura added new charges against Germain Rukuki, a member and leader of several human rights organizations arrested in July 2017 and maintained in detention for « compromising State security ».
On October 24th 2017, the Burundian Parliament adopted a draft bill for the revision of the Constitution. The primary objective of this move is to modify provisions related to the limitation of presidential mandates. On December 12th 2017, the President of the Republic launched a campaign promoting this project, which will be submitted to a referendum in May 2018. In the speech that the President gave on this occasion, he warned «those that would try to derail this project through words or deeds». Local authorities relayed this threat to their communities. In February 2018, a video clip was circulated on social media, showing the communal administrator of Gashoho, in the province of Muyinga, who said he was going to « pull the teeth out of the agitators » who are campaigning against the proposed revision of the Constitution.
In this context, the Commission has received significant information and collected several testimonies highlighting cases of harassment and violence committed by public officials and/or members of the ruling party’s youth league – the Imbonerakure – on individuals who may vote no or who refuse to enrol on voters’ lists for the referendum. Witnesses interviewed by the Commission have indicated that failure to produce proof of enrolment could result in limited/no access to health care or other services.
Several cases of arrest, summary execution as well as disappearance of members of opposition parties, mainly from the Forces nationales de libération (FNL)-Rwasa, who refuse to join the ruling party or suspected of campaigning against the proposed revision of the Constitution have been documented by the Commission. These cases supplement other human rights violations, specifically arrests and arbitrary detentions, torture and ill treatments, disappearances and violations of the rights to an effective appeal and to a fair trial. These findings confirm the trends already documented last year by the Commission.
The Commission also received information from several sources showing an increase of the contributions demanded, sometimes forcefully, by government officials and the Imbonerakure. These contributions vary from one province to another and serve different end goals such as construction of public infrastructures, building monuments to the glory of the ruling party, obtaining the right to sell products in the local market or to show support for the CNDD-FDD even if the individuals targeted are not members of the party. In many cases, the legality of these contributions is doubtful.
Furthermore, on December 11th 2018, the Ministry of the Interior issued a ministerial Order (n° 530/540/1772)2 setting the amounts of the contributions that are due for the organization of the 2020 elections. Civil servants get up to 10% of their pay withheld at source. According to the decree, households must disburse 2.000 Burundian Francs per year and students as well as pupils of voting age are to contribute 1.000 BIF per year. In fact, the Commission received testimonies showing that the amounts collected can be higher than the official amounts provided in the ministerial Order. Civil servants informed the Commission that they also had to participate in the general contribution from their line ministry.
These various contributions supplement taxes created and/or increased since 2015. As an example, taxes on sugar, gas and lubricants have increased by 33% and 95% respectively from 2015 to 2018. The mobile communication specific tax on national networks, created in 2015, has increased by 19% since 20173.
These contributions add more burden to a population whose living conditions have worsened since April 2015. The GDP per capita, which was stable around 2.5% between 2004 and 2014, fell to minus 6.2% in 2015, minus 3.4% in 2016 and minus 2.3% in 2017. According to the International Monetary Fund, the forecast for 2018 is expected to be minus 2.2%4. Burundi, which went from developing country to country of humanitarian emergency in 2016 5, saw the number of people in need more than triple. The Humanitarian Country Team considers that 3.6 million people today, mainly women and children, require assistance6 as opposed to 1 million in February 20167. More than 3 million people are experiencing food insecurity and more than 2 million have limited access to drinking water and have insufficient hygiene practices. This in turn increases the risks of epidemics in a country already affected by malaria and cholera and whose health services are insufficient. To name just a few alarming figures, only one third of health centres have the 24 essential drugs and, between 2014 and 2016, maternal deaths in hospitals increased by 135%88.
To this day, 430.250 Burundians9 are refugees in neighbouring countries of Burundi. However, the Commission collected several testimonies indicating increased border controls aimed at preventing Burundians from leaving the country. During missions conducted in early 2018, the Commission met with refugees who fled the country, including some who left recently, for mainly political reasons. Some of these individuals, either members of opposition parties or not, had been persecuted into joining the ruling party or enrolling on voters’ lists. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has scheduled 60.000 repatriations in 2018. However, the Agency stated that « the conditions for a large-scale organized repatriation under conditions of safety and dignity were not in place »10. In addition, the Commission expressed concern in regards to risks of violation of the principle of non-refoulement if Burundians who have fled their country for political reasons are repatriated against their will or turned away at the border with Burundi.
In addition to these refugees, there are 188.000 internally displaced persons (IDPs)11, 80% of them being women and children12. In 2018, the Humanitarian Country Team noted that « the majority of the displaced are taken care of by the host community without any external assistance thus aggravating the pressure on the sharing of already scarce resources »13.
The situation in Burundi requires utmost attention from this Council, especially in light of the current context characterized by sustained shrinking of democratic space and humanitarian crisis. Once again, my colleagues and I are calling on the Burundian authorities to be more open and, in this spirit, we remain available for discussions.
We will update the Council on the evolution of the situation in Burundi during its next session in June.
Thank you for your attention
1. A/HRC/RES/33/24, par. 23 (d).
3. These increases emerged from an analysis of the laws establishing the general government budget promulgated since 2015.
4. Regional Economic Outlook: Fiscal Adjustment and Economic Diversification, October 2018
5. OCHA reopened an office in Burundi in February 2016. The same month, the Humanitarian Country Team published an initial humanitarian needs overview. The previous overview was from 2007.
6. Humanitarian needs overview, November 2017 (French report made public in February 2018) which states that: « women and children represent the most important group of persons in need of assistance. The humanitarian community believes that 1.9 million children, 805.000 women, 778.000 men and more than 149.000 elderly persons need humanitarian assistance ».
7. Humanitarian needs overview, February 2016
8. All the figures are from the humanitarian needs overview of November 2017.
9. https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/burundi (updated on 31 January 2018).
10. UNHCR, Burundi Regional Refugee Response Plan 2018.
11. Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), October 2017
12. Humanitarian needs overview, November 2017
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