Header image for news printout

Statement by Michael K. Addo, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures at the Twenty-fourth Special Session of the Human Rights Council on preventing further deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi

Geneva, 17 December 2015

Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

The Coordination Committee would like to express its deepest concern at the appalling deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi, as demonstrated by the recent killings that took place over the past weekend in the country, which sharply increases the risk of recurring mass violence in the Great Lakes region. Despite the many and loud early warning calls made by several actors, including special procedures mandate holders, the international community has been less than robust in its response for far too long and has failed to take what we consider to be the necessary action to prevent the situation from worsening further. This Special Session is therefore long overdue and we welcome it.

Symptoms of this very volatile situation were already visible long before April of this year when the current crisis started to unfold. A year ago, two of our fellow mandate holders, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, expressed concern at the human rights situation in Burundi. Following their country visits, it was stressed that the degree of stability that had been achieved in the country over the last decade remained fragile, resulting from the unheeded calls for truth and justice for the many violations and abuses that occurred in previous cycles of violence. Already then, this was very much felt by civil society, in particular human rights defenders,   who continue to bear the brunt of the violence.

For the past eight months, Mr. President, numerous calls have been made to alert this Council and the Security Council to the spiral of violence that started in late April, when President Nkuruziza’s candidacy for a third term was announced and peaceful protests were met by a violent crackdown by security forces.

More calls for immediate attention were made in June/July this year with a warning that elections, if undertaken in the prevailing climate of repression and insecurity, were highly likely to result in major instability and confrontation. An alert was also made that the manipulation and, in some instances, coercion of rule of law institutions, including the Constitutional Court, for electoral purposes would result in a heavy toll for the entire society, and so impacting painfully on the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

As recently as the last HRC session in September, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence stressed that the ‘tradition of impunity’ in Burundi’s past decades clearly enabled the recent repression and violence. He warned that the international community, regional and international organizations included, cannot afford to simply stand by and wait for the situation to escalate further. The Council’s answer to this call in September again fell short in our opinion of any concrete action that could have had an impact on the situation on the ground. 

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, months have passed and the situation in Burundi has continued to deteriorate with daily reports of serious human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, attacks on independent media and harassment and killing of human rights defenders, unjustified limitations on freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, adding to more than 220,000 refugees in addition to an unknown number of internally displaced persons.  We are concerned that the recent political crisis could deepen  the already polarized ethnic divides.

The persistence of the dire situation in Burundi is unacceptable under any circumstances, but especially so for a country that has just been elected to the Human Rights Council. According to OP9 of the resolution 60/251 establishing the Human Rights Council, Members of this Council are expected to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. In this regard, we urge Burundi to make this commitment a reality for its people.

Last month, the Security Council adopted resolution 2248 (2015). A group of special procedures welcomed the eventual alert of the Security Council to the situation in Burundi, but called for more concrete responses befitting the magnitude of the risks at stake, for Burundi and the region.

Mr. President,

This Council now has the unique opportunity to address the highly volatile situation in Burundi, which requires a resolute and immediate response. Such a response rests upon an impartial assessment of human rights violations on the ground, irrespective of the identity or affiliation of the victim or the perpetrator. Such a response should seek to break the ‘tradition of impunity,’ which lies at the heart of most of the country’s difficulties.

Therefore, we call for this Council to scale-up its monitoring and preventive function in relation to Burundi, including by establishing a mechanism that would be able to assess the situation and be deployed without delay in order to respond to the urgency of the situation. In light of special procedures' engagement in the last months, we call on the Council to ensure that special procedures are appropriately associated with this mechanism. Furthermore, considering the recurrent nature of the situation, the Council should consider establishing a more permanent mechanism that will keep it continuously informed.

Alongside the Council, other UN institutions especially the Security Council must also respond to the situation in Burundi with unequivocal robustness. Any initiative should include a strong human rights component.

In the meantime, we urge Burundi to take immediate steps to put an end to the rampant human rights violations and ensure that there is no impunity for the perpetrators. Burundi should also take immediate measures to restore trust and confidence among its population and to reject all forms of violence. The country is in dire need of a comprehensive prevention policy that would ensure the non-recurrence of the current situation. In addition to reforming State institutions, including the justice and security sectors, this should also require recognizing and enhancing the role of civil society, who should be allowed to work without fear and intimidation, and the potential of educational reform.

Despite Burundi’s standing invitation, requests by thematic special procedures have been left unanswered by the Government for a long time. We therefore welcome the fact that Burundi has very recently accepted the request for a visit of the Special Rapporteur on summary executions. We call on the Government to confirm the dates for the visit as soon as possible so that the visit can take place without delay. We also call on Burundi to respond in a similarly positive manner to pending requests from other special procedures mandate holders.

Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

The unforgivable cycle of impunity that persists in Burundi has to be broken or this crisis will not go away. Quite to the contrary, it will return at intervals, as we have unfortunately witnessed so many times in the past. The time to act is now. Let's cease the moment.

I would like to thank you for your attention.

    Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (visit in December 2014), at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15426&LangID=E.

      Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (visit in November 2014), see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15341&LangID=E.

   Press release “Pre-election violence endangers Burundi’s young democracy, UN rights experts warn”, 30 April 2015, see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15909&LangID=E.

   Press release “Burundi: UN experts call for determined Security Council action to prevent mass violence in the Great Lakes region”, 16 July 2015, See: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16243&LangID=E; and Press release, ‘Tradition of impunity’ threatens Burundi’s future, renders free elections impossible – UN expert warns, 19 June 2015, at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16102&LangID=E.