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Burundi: UN expert calls for protection of all rights defenders after attempted killing of top activist

GENEVA (7 August 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, today urged the Government of Burundi to protect all rights activists after this week’s brutal attack and assassination attempt on Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, one of the country’s top rights defender.

“The attempted killing of such a highly respected activist as Mr. Mbonimpa sends a very chilling message to all members of civil society and also the entire population,” Mr. Forst warned. “During this period of turmoil and insecurity in the country, I am gravely concerned for the safety of all persons advocating for human rights in Burundi and call for an immediate end to violence.”

“The Burundian authorities should make it clear that such heinous attacks will not be tolerated and do their utmost to protect human rights defenders from future attacks,” he stressed. “I call for immediate protection to be provided to Mr. Mbonimpa during his recovery in hospital. I also urge that the attack is subject to an independent and impartial investigation so that perpetrators are brought to justice with due regard to fair trial standards.”

As President of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Incarcerated Persons (APRODH), Mr. Mbonimpa has a longstanding record of advocating for the rights of prisoners and fighting against torture in Burundi. His work has been recognized internationally by human rights awards, including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2007 and the Henry Dunant Prize in 2011.

Mr. Mbonimpa has spoken out publicly about controversial issues, including on the recent presidential elections in the country, which has led to his arrest and prolonged detention in 2014 and again in April 2015.

“I met Mr. Mbonimpa on several occasions during my visit to Burundi in November 2014, and he struck me as one of the most courageous and respected human rights defenders in the country. The other defenders that I met with referred to him respectfully as ‘The Senior’ (‘Le Doyen’),” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Together with other experts from the UN human rights system, we have repeatedly communicated our grave concerns to the Government about Mr. Mbonimpa’s situation and urged an immediate halt to such intimidating and harassing acts.”

This statement has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai; on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff; and Seong-Phil Hong, who currently heads the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in June 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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.

Learn more:
Rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Peaceful assembly: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
Freedom of expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

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

For more information and media requests, please contact Jennifer Jokstad (+41 22 917 9245 / jjokstad@ohchr.org) or write to defenders@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en