Concludes Interactive Dialogue with Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic
GENEVA ( 22 March 2016) - The Human Rights Council this morning held an enhanced interactive dialogue on Burundi, pursuant to its resolution S-24/1 adopted at its twenty-fourth Special Session in December 2015. The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with Marie Thérèse Keita Bocoum, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.
Ivan Šimonović, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that continued political tensions in the country threatened to escalate into a spiral of violence with the emergence of armed groups opposed to the Government. Since the crisis began, hundreds had been killed, dozens had been allegedly forcibly disappeared, thousands had been detained and hundreds had been tortured. Civil society activists suffered violence and intimidation by State agents or militias. Around 250,000 Burundians had fled to neighbouring countries. Malnutrition was a major humanitarian concern. Perpetrators, including State agents and members of armed groups, should be held to account.
Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions,
reported on his recent visit to Burundi. While the overt violence of 2015 seemed to have subsided, covert violence in the form of disappearances seemed to have increased. Extrajudicial killings, summary and arbitrary executions, torture and disappearances that had taken place during the crisis could be attributed to the State, and in some cases also to the armed opposition. A central part of any effort to stop those cycles of violence would have to be the introduction of a system of accountability.
Martin Nivyabandi, Minister of Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender of Burundi, said that the situation in Burindi was getting back to normal. Some individuals had sought to spread unfounded rumours to undermine the Government. People dressed in police uniforms had targeted civilians and disseminated images, which had been relayed by the world media. Belgium’s colonial policy of division had led to the events of May 2015 and the attempted coup. The Government would continue all its efforts for accountability.
Jean-Marie Ehouzou, Permanent Representative of the African Union in Geneva, said that the report of the human rights fact-finding mission would soon be submitted to the African Union Council of Peace and Security. A high-level delegation had visited Burundi and underscored the need to dismantle and disarm all militias. The population of the region was urged to refrain from statements that might worsen the situation. All parties involved in the Burundian crisis were invited to take part in the dialogue.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, President of the Association pour la protection des droits humains des personnes détenues, explained that his organization had carried out investigations into the killings committed since April 2015. The Government of Burundi claimed that the bodies his organization had seen had been planted to tarnish the image of the Government. But, the organization had also found mass graves.
Commission Nationale Independante des droits de l’homme du Burundi expressed great concern at political sanctions and suspension measures. Today the situation was relatively calm; most detained persons had been freed and radio stations were operating. The Government should remove restrictions on civil society and continue investigations into the events of 2015. Civil society organizations should be politically independent and neutral and avoid inflammatory declarations.
During the ensuing dialogue, speakers expressed concern about the growing number of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances committed by the Government forces, as well as constraints placed on civil society activity. They remained concerned about the reports of the existence of mass graves and called for the immediate resumption of an inter-Burundian dialogue. Complementary regional and national efforts needed to be made to address the situation in the country, whereas ensuring accountability was key.
Speaking were European Union, Belgium, Senegal, France, Spain, Egypt, Albania, Canada, Mexico, Austria, Greece, Portugal, Japan, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Luxembourg, United States, Czech Republic, China, Libya, Gabon, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Algeria, Germany, Angola, Ireland, Switzerland, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Africa on behalf of the African Group.
Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: World Evangelical Alliance, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in a joint statement with Franciscans International, CIVICUS, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Espace Afrique International, International Service for Human Rights, and Independent Centre for Research and Initiative.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with Marie Thérèse Keita Bocoum, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic. The dialogue started yesterday and a summary can be read here.
During the dialogue, speakers welcomed the recent elections, and called on the international community to support the new Government’s efforts for peace, reconciliation and human rights. They underlined the importance of demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation measures, as well as of security sector reforms. They also highlighted the importance of accountability and of the Special Criminal Tribunal starting its work promptly.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Keita Bocoum called for south-south cooperation in the field of education and human rights education, and called for strengthened women’s participation in electoral, transitional and reconciliation processes. The immediate set up of the Special Criminal Tribunal was particularly important to ensure accountability for the committed crimes and to provide redress to the victims. Countries contributing troops to peacekeeping in the country had to make sure to investigate sexual violence cases. Disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and security sector reform were key for the process of reconciliation.
Speaking were Chad, Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, Netherlands, Mali, Angola, Botswana, Switzerland, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Gabon.
World Evangelical Alliance in a joint statement with Caritas International, Save the Children, FIDH, Arab Commission for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme also spoke.
The Council is having a full day of meetings. At noon, it will hold its annual discussion on technical cooperation with a panel discussion on technical cooperation to promote and protect the rights of all migrants, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic
Chad thanked the Independent Expert for the informative report on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, and praised the holding of elections in the country, which had taken place according to international standards. Morocco expressed hope that the elections in the Central African Republic were a sign of a new phase despite the challenges the country still faced. Equatorial Guinea said the recent elections in the Central African Republic represented an important step toward democracy, adding that a process of national reconciliation should lead to the rule of law in country. It urged the international community to provide technical assistance to Burundi. Netherlands said that the swift operationalization of the Special Criminal Tribunal to investigate human rights violations was a necessary step in the fight against impunity and for national reconciliation. Mali urged the international community to continue its support to the Central African Republic as far as priority programmes were concerned, such as strengthening good governance initiatives and disarmament. Angola urged the Central African Republic to take measures to strengthen institutions, also appealing to the international community to continue its technical assistance and capacity building so as to continue the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration process in the field.
Botswana encouraged the Government to continue its efforts for the protection of civilians and the promotion of human rights. Switzerland deplored acts of harassment that took place during the elections, and asked what priority measures should be taken to improve the security situation and ensure accountability. Republic of Congo said that the successful elections were the result of international cooperation and support, and of the efforts of the transitional Government. It underlined the importance of ensuring safe return for refugees, and appealed for technical assistance to the authorities for the implementation of priority measures. Sierra Leone was particularly concerned about the poor funding of the humanitarian appeal, which deprived the population of their right to food, health and education. Sierra Leone insisted on the importance of demobilization, disarmament and reintegration, and appealed for assistance to the reform of the security sector. Gabon urged the international community to continue its support to the Central African Republic, including measures related to demobilization, disarmament and reintegration.
World Evangelical Alliance, in a joint statement with Caritas Internationalis, noted the positive effect that the Pope’s visit to the Central African Republic had had on peace in the country, and asked what measures could be taken to ensure reconciliation in rural areas. Save the Children remained concerned about the lack of safety of educational facilities, and was gravely concerned by further allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers. It stressed the need for investigation and training before deployment. FIDH said that ensuring disarmament and demobilization, as well as accountability, were essential pillars for ensuring peace, and called for support to the Special Criminal Tribunal, and cooperation with the International Criminal Court.
Arab Commission for Human Rights asked the Independent Expert what steps the Central African Republic should take to develop criminal justice, ensure accountability and prevent impunity. How should armed groups be disarmed and reintegrated into the society? What was the role of religious groups in preventing violence? Human Rights Watch noted that the situation in Bangui remained extremely fragile as the largely Muslim Seleka rebels and the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka fighters attacked each other and civilians, often in reprisal attacks. Impunity continued to be a principle driver of the violence. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des droits de l’homme said that the security situation in Bangui had considerably improved. Nevertheless, efforts were needed to fight trafficking in weapons, and to address the chronic and grave food crisis.
Concluding Remarks by the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic
MARIE THERESE KEITA BOCOUM, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, said that she had noted throughout her visit to Burundi a huge demand for education, and particularly education on human rights. It was thus important for the international community to provide assistance in that respect. As for university education, it was important to have south-south in addition to north-south cooperation in the exchange of university professors and education in general. Regarding the role of women, reference was made frequently to strengthen their participation in the process of national reconciliation and transition. There were now numerous female Government members. There was a gender parity bill in front of the Parliament, and a plan to encourage girls to go to university. Work was undertaken by the United Nations Refugee Agency and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated
Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) to facilitate that. It was important to encourage the Government to support women to stand for elections, and to provide training for women to participate in all electoral processes. One of the major challenges was women’s lack of resources to stand for election; political parties were also not putting women forward as candidates.
Regarding the strengthening of criminal proceedings and the establishment of the Special Criminal Tribunal, real problems had to be addressed, said Ms. Keita Bocoum. It was necessary to make judges available in the country. Judges were not operating outside of Bangui, and thus access to justice needed to be ensured. Another problem was the frequent escape of inmates from prisons. Prison guards were very badly paid and there was also a record of hesitation to perform those jobs because of the high level of prison violence. In addition, female guards were frequently harassed. Itinerant courts would be organized in order to ensure access to justice in distant parts of the country. The immediate set up of the Special Criminal Tribunal was particularly important to ensure accountability for the committed crimes and to provide redress to the victims. As for sexual violence, a United Nations resolution and national measures had been adopted to address that problem. Awareness raising campaigns could enhance the efforts made by the United Nations. Countries contributing troops to MINUSCA also had to make sure to investigate such violence. Local reconciliation committees were in place, and religious organizations had a role to play in those. There were projects under way, but reconciliation could not be achieved without justice. Proper treatment for victims also had to be provided. Turning to the issue of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, Ms. Keita Bocoum stressed that component was key for the process of reconciliation. Without that element, the Central African Republic would not be able to make progress. It should take place hand in hand with the security forces reform. Women’s presence in the military and security forces should be increased. Work also had to be done in order to provide assistance to demobilized children. Even though there was a programme in place to reintegrate those children, the challenge remained that whenever there was a crisis they would again join armed groups.
Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on Burundi
JANIS KARKLINS, Vice President of the Human Rights Council, reviewed the decisions leading to the holding of this enhanced interactive dialogue on Burundi. They included the Council’s decision -- adopted at the twenty-fourth Special Session -- for the High Commissioner to urgently organize and dispatch a mission by independent experts to investigate the human rights situation in Burundi, and present an oral update during the interactive dialogue. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, would present that oral report.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that the situation in Burundi was of great concern. Continued political tensions in the country threatened to escalate into a spiral of violence. The humanitarian, economic and social toll on the population was worrisome. Since the crisis began in April 2015, hundreds of people had been killed and there were dozens of cases of alleged enforced disappearances. Thousands had been detained and there were hundreds of reports of torture. Civil society continued to operate within an extremely limited space, with activists suffering violence and intimidation by agents of the State or militias. Further and more credible investigations into alleged mass graves were urged. The emergence of two armed groups opposed to the government was adding to the violence, with attacks in December 2015 illustrating the cycle of violence that the country was caught up in. Grenade attacks had become common in Bujumbura. The Government’s agreement for the team mandated by the Council to carry out investigations was welcomed, and continued cooperation was urged. The General Prosecutor’s decision to withdraw some media bans was also welcomed. Concerns still remained, however, that journalists were operating in a very limited space, and civil society was under heavy restrictions. The human rights violations occurring in Burundi affected the wider Great Lakes region. Around 250,000 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers had arrived in neighbouring countries since the start of the crisis.
A lot of focus in recent months had centred on civil and political rights but it was important not to side-line the Burundian population’s equally important economic and social rights. Malnutrition was a major humanitarian concern. Burundi’s main donor, the European Union, in March suspended direct financial support to the country’s administration, and donors had cut foreign aid which amounted to almost half the country’s annual revenue before the crisis. A humanitarian response request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had received just 3 per cent funding. But international donors appeared ready to re-engage if they saw signals toward the resolution of the current crisis. Poverty and the political crisis were causing polarisation and fragmentation of Burundian society. A climate for inclusive dialogue was needed, and for that to be created, freedom of expression was needed, and the media, civil society and opposition had to be allowed to operate freely. There had to be an end to disappearances, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings and torture. Perpetrators, including agents of the State and members of armed groups, had to be publicly held to account.
CHRISTOF HEYNS, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, reported on his visit to Burundi which took place from 1 to 8 March 2016. The visit was the first step in the ongoing process and it was possible only to give general impressions at the current stage. Mr. Heyns commended the fact that the mission could take place and the high level access that the experts had to high-ranking officials. The overt violence of 2015 seemed to have subsided. However, covert violence in the form of disappearances seemed to have increased, and there was cause for serious concern about the human rights situation in Burundi. Evidence pointed towards extrajudicial killings, summary and arbitrary executions, torture and disappearances that had taken place during the crisis which could be attributed to the State, and in some cases also to the armed opposition. Freedom of expression and the space for civil society was under sustained and often violent pressure. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Office in Burundi had documented some 500 killed, 1,700 arbitrary arrests and detentions, and 20 enforced disappearances since April 2015. Most of the private radios suspended following the May 2015 coup attempt were still not authorized to operate. Out of 37 newspapers available in Burundi, only one was perceived as independent. A total of 10 civil society organizations had been ordered to suspend their activities until the completion of a judicial inquiry process.
The fabric of society was seriously disrupted and there were high levels of fear and exasperation among the population. There were some in the Government who seemed to be open to change. But, others were in denial that anything was wrong. The judiciary and other instruments of the justice system lacked the necessary institutional independence. It seemed clear that a central part of any effort to stop those cycles of violence would have to be the introduction of a system of accountability. At the heart of many problems in Burundi were deficits in governance, and there was no way to make up for such deficits unless the institutions of the State related to citizens in a different way. Establishing relations with citizens that manifested in every interaction respect for the status of citizens as rights holders, respect for the rule of law, and for democratic requirements of transparency and inclusiveness were essential requirements for resolving and not merely coping with the crisis. In the long run, steps such as ensuring greater independence of the judiciary, disarming the militias, installing civilian oversight of the security sector, and providing the security forces with the capacity and training to use less lethal weapons would be necessary, Mr. Heyns concluded.
MARTIN NIVYABANDI, Minister of Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender of Burundi, said that despite challenges during the pre-electoral period, the situation was getting back to normal. In light of an extensive disarmament programme, thousands of weapons and large amounts of ammunition had been recovered. Mass graves were now being uncovered. There were attempts to manipulate the public opinion regarding a genocide against the Tutsis, which were false allegations. Those who had fled were now returning safely, he said. He regretted that some individuals had sought to spread unfounded rumours to undermine the Government. People dressed in police uniforms had targeted civilians and disseminated images. The world media had fallen into the trap of these people, most of whom were coming from Rwanda. Belgium, the colonial power, had undertaken a policy of division, leading up to the events of May 2015 and the attempted coup. The President had recently launched the operational phase of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The young people detained for being involved in the insurgency had been released. The Public Prosecutor had just issued 15 international arrest warrants. Burundi could not become a place where impunity ruled. The Government would continue all its efforts to pursue all those who had committed crimes. The international community should continue to support Burundi as it was addressing remaining challenges.
JEAN-MARIE EHOUZOU, Permanent Representative of the African Union in Geneva, said that the situation in Burundi was of grave concern. Speaking about the African Union’s actions vis-à-vis the crisis, he said a peacebuilding mission had been sent initially. In December 2015 at the Human Rights Council, the African Union had stressed the need for sufficient financing for the deployment of observers to Burundi. A fact-finding mission would investigate all human rights violations since the beginning of the crisis. The report of that mission would soon be submitted to the African Union Council of Peace and Security. He gave details of the mission’s activities, which included meetings with various stakeholders from the media, diplomatic corps, and humanitarian organizations. A number of sites had been visited, including a detention centre and a hospital. A very worrisome level of violence, including arbitrary executions, was indicated, as was a worrying humanitarian situation as well as damage inflicted on public services. He then described the visit of a high-level delegation comprising five heads of State, which following its mission had underscored the need to dismantle and disarm all militias operating. The population of the region was urged to refrain from statements that might worsen the situation. All parties involved in the Burundian crisis were invited to take part in the dialogue without preconditions, and experts would carry out a second visit. He noted that there was a growing international convergence on helping Burundi move out of its current crisis. He expressed concern for the situation on the ground, as well as encouragement at the positive commitments of Burundian authorities.
PIERRE CLAVER MBONIMPA, President of the Association pour la protection des droits humains des personnes détenues, explained that his organization had carried out investigations into the killings committed in Burundi since April 2015. The Government of Burundi claimed that the bodies his organization had seen had been planted to tarnish the image of the Government. But the organization had also found mass graves. Those who were supposed to investigate the committed crimes had not even looked at those mass graves. Mr. Mbonimpa asked Martin Nivyabandi, Minister of Human Rights, Social Affairs, and Gender of Burundi, about the location of the missing bodies. He noted that experts had qualified the killings in Burundi as genocide. How many people needed to state that it indeed qualified as a genocide? Innocent people had been assassinated without trial. Until now, no report of investigations into the committed crimes had been released, while the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had presented a report on 68 persons killed in an extrajudicial manner. Mr. Mbonimpa challenged the Minister’s claim that there were no youth trained in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Considering the events in Burundi today, how could anyone claim that there were no human rights violations? What would the Government do to stop this situation? The human rights situation in Burundi was getting worse, and Mr. Mbonimpa called on Member States to help the country address this situation.
Commission Nationale Indepéndante des droits de l’homme du Burundi expressed great concern at political sanctions and suspension measures. Today the situation was relatively calm; most detained persons had been freed and two out of the five radio stations were operating. Recommendations were made to the Burundian Government, including the removal of restrictions on the operation of civil society. Measures should also be taken to continue investigations into the events of 2015. Civil society was recommended to continue to be politically independent and neutral, to avoid inflammatory declarations, and to encourage the end of the violence.
European Union said that specific measures were needed to improve the human rights situation in Burundi, expressing concern about the growing number of arbitrary detentions and reports of the existence of mass graves, and calling for the immediate resumption of inter-Burundian dialogue. Belgium thanked the Chairman and all delegations for their expressions of condolences to Belgium for the attacks which had struck Brussels this morning. On Burundi, Belgium demanded that the authorities in the country put an end to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, also asking the Special Rapporteurs what were the specific expectations that they had to be able to implement their mandates before the thirty-third session of the Council? Senegal said that the situation in Burundi was of concern to all, and that the promotion of a political solution should put the interests of the population above everything.
France noted that the human rights situation in Burundi had not improved, and condemned extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances committed by the Government forces, as well as constraints placed on civil society activity. Spain called for an urgent end to violence and the resumption of an inclusive dialogue, and it appealed to the Government of Burundi and all the parties to cease human rights violations, and to abide by the provisions of the Arusha Agreements. Egypt noted that human rights could be upheld in Burundi only once security had been secured, and within the national framework. It praised regional efforts, especially of the African Union, to address the situation in the country. Albania remained concerned about the situation of political deadlock in Burundi, and urged the Government to work with the opposition to find a sustainable solution to the crisis, based on measures agreed with the African Union, the East African Community and the United Nations. Canada praised the Government of Burundi for having taken steps to carry out an inclusive political dialogue, and to allow some degree of freedom for the press. Nevertheless, those steps needed to be supported by quick concrete actions to address the ongoing violence and repression. Mexico called on all the parties in Burundi to fully comply with international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Complementary regional and national efforts needed to be made to address the situation in the country, whereas ensuring accountability was key.
Austria said that despite recent efforts, there was a clear lack of commitment by the authorities to tackle the serious human rights situation in Burundi, and asked the Rapporteurs which practical options they saw in Burundi for the international community to better protect women and children from sexual violence in conflict situations? Greece condemned all acts of violence and violations of the right to a fair and impartial trial, which had been experienced recently in the case of a person with dual Greek and Burundian citizenship. Portugal said that as a member of the Council, Burundi had an enhanced obligation to uphold the highest standard of respect for all human rights and freedoms for all, asking the experts for their views on the main challenges toward overcoming the human rights crisis in Burundi. Japan said that while the human rights situation in Burundi remained extremely serious, Japan welcomed the positive gestures and commitments made with the international community, adding that Japan expected the Government of Burundi to fully implement its commitments without delay. United Kingdom expressed deep concern about the human rights situation in Burundi, noting that the increase in reports of sexual violence must be investigated, also asking the Rapporteur how the United Nations could best encourage collaboration between the Government and civil society? Netherlands said that the absence of a genuine, fully inclusive internationally mediated dialogue among all peaceful Burundian stakeholders was keeping in place a dangerous stalemate, and asked the experts to elaborate on the state of the Burundian justice system and what would be needed to curb the culture of impunity.
Luxembourg regretted that the human rights situation in Burundi and the ongoing political unrest had deteriorated. It deplored the upsurge in sexual assault and enforced disappearances, noting that credible investigations of such crimes had to be undertaken. United States urged the Government of Burundi to allow African Union observers complete and free access to investigate allegations of human rights violations, including mass graves, and to lift all undue restrictions on media. Czech Republic noted that the situation in Burundi had deteriorated since April 2015, and expressed deep concern over the violation of fundamental human rights and a direct involvement of the State’s security forces. China noted that the national dialogue was already in process in Burundi, and steps had been taken by the Government to address the human rights concerns. It encouraged all international parties to work towards a sustainable solution to the crisis in Burundi. Libya expressed concern over the resurgence of violence since April 2015, and invited the Government to make further efforts to build stability. It also supported the African Union and international efforts to bring the crisis to an end.
Response by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
CHRISTOF HEYNS, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that his Secretariat would be deployed on April 1, and that all three experts had identified June 13 as the day when they would be ready for a second visit, and would appreciate confirmation that the date suited the Burundian Government. He emphasised the need for a lack of reprisals with those who cooperated with their mission. A question had been asked about investigations into the role of women and children, which would be a priority for the experts’ mission. The first challenge was to create conditions for inclusive dialogue. People should feel safe and civil society should function fully. In many cases, people felt their personal safety was threatened, which had to be addressed. A truth and reconciliation commission was a positive step, and regarding options of accountability, there was a need to break the cycle of impunity, adding that whether accountability took place at the national or international level, it was crucial that archives were retained. It was important to collaborate with the African Union and observers on the ground, as African Union involvement would be a very important part of the resolution of the crisis.
Statement by the Vice President of the Council
BERTRAND DE CROMBRUGGHE, Vice President of the Human Rights Council, expressed gratitude to all the delegations and colleagues who had expressed sympathy to the Government of Belgium following today’s terrorist attacks in Brussels. He noted that Belgium would come out of the crisis strong and added that the Human Rights Council would not stop its work because of terrorism.
Gabon called on the Government of Burundi to continue the political dialogue and pursue cooperation with the international community, the United Nations and the African Union, and welcomed the positive measures, including the release of detainees. New Zealand remained concerned about the ongoing violence in Burundi and the high number of human rights violations committed by both State and non-State actors. It urged the Government to take further steps to provide open space for political debate. Republic of Korea took note that the Government of Burundi had responded positively to the activities of the experts. However, the Government and all parties had to immediately stop the ongoing political confrontations. Algeria was concerned that the peace in Burundi had been put at risk. It urged the authorities to overcome this and to place the interests of Burundian people at the centre of their efforts. Germany acknowledged the recent cooperation of Burundi with the Council mechanisms. The Government now had to follow through to ensure that human rights violations were stopped and that those responsible were held accountable. Angola welcomed the changes made by Burundi towards reconciliation, peace and stability, and urged the Government, all political actors and civil society to engage in an inclusive dialogue.
Ireland said that a long-term solution to the crisis was only possible through an inter-Burundian dialogue with all relevant actors, and urged the Government of Burundi, a member of the Human Rights Council, to live up to its responsibility to protect the human rights of all its citizens. Switzerland called for inclusive dialogue on a sincere and intensified basis, and underscored the importance of drawing a link with national peacebuilding initiatives, asking which measures had been identified for achieving a way out of the crisis? Ghana welcomed the update presented by the independent experts and appealed to the Government of Burundi to fulfil its promise to address outstanding human rights challenges. Democratic Republic of the Congo said the situation in Burundi had a direct impact on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and reiterated its readiness to ensure good conditions for hosting refugees, asking the United Nations Refugee Agency and humanitarian organizations to ensure that civilians were clearly separated from combatants before they arrived in refugee camps. Tanzania called on all parties involved to intensify efforts to expedite and finalize the settlement of all outstanding issues, and urged all members of the international community to remain engaged. Rwanda said the delegation of Burundi’s references to Rwanda were without substance and had no basis in fact, and that it was regrettable that the Government of Burundi had chosen to externalise an internal domestic matter, adding also that Rwanda continued to protect 77,587 Burundian refugees in Rwanda. South Africa, speaking on behalf of the African Group, encouraged Burundi to ensure lasting stability and security in Bujumbura, and continue the inter-Burundian dialogue already initiated, commending also the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was now in its operational phase.
World Evangelical Alliance was concerned about the social crisis in Burundi, noting that the key to peace was real inclusiveness and that the Government of Burundi had the prime responsibility to seek that. Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in a joint statement with Franciscans International, noted that thousands of persons had been arbitrarily arrested without due process, and that public freedoms had been strictly limited. It was particularly concerned about the aggression against the Catholic Church in Burundi. CIVICUS noted with extreme alarm the reports of mass graves, and bodies found in the streets of Bujumbura on a daily basis, particularly in the neighbourhoods where the protests had begun in April 2015. Human Rights Watch noted that it could not agree with the presentation made by the Minister from Burundi, adding that it would have been better if the Government of Burundi had addressed the Human Rights Council as a country concerned. Amnesty International stated it had documented excessive use of force by security forces against protesters, large scale arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, as well as increased use of torture and ill treatment in Burundi.
Espace Afrique International said that what was happening in Burundi was inadmissible, this trend of certain presidents to play around with the Constitution of their countries to extend their mandate must end. How many civilians had to die for the ambition and stubbornness of one person? International Service for Human Rights referred to targeted killings, arbitrary arrests and torture against human rights defenders in Burundi, and called for accountability for perpetrators. The possibility of Burundi’s suspension from the Council’s membership should be discussed. Independent Centre for Research and Initiative for the Dialogue encouraged dialogue between the Burundian diaspora and the Government of Burundi.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, responding to questions raised by delegations, said that allegations of sexual violence had been made in the context of retaliation, while other allegations had been individual complaints and allegations of sexual violence committed by armed groups. As for the state of the justice system in Burundi, it could not be considered independent and it did not have sufficient capacities. It was necessary to have an inclusive dialogue and commitment to human rights, and then capacity building could take place. Currently, the aim was to record violations and preserve evidence hoping that a period of increased accountability would come. The willingness of the Government of Burundi to respect the rule of law existed in principle, but more needed to be done in practice.
Martin Nivyabandi, Minister of Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender of Burundi, in concluding remarks, said the Imbonerakure was a movement that was not a militia but was connected to the Government in power. Structural problems remained and had to be overcome in Burundi. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was now in place and would find answers to questions raised during the discussion at the Council, including the problem of mass graves. Some had determined that during the different crises in Burundi many victims had been buried in mass graves. However after investigations, even using satellite imagery, no mass graves had been found. Gender-based violence was prohibited by the law. There were statistics, but there was no proof that it was used as a weapon of war. Regarding impunity, certain challenges remained after years of war and the establishment of cooperation involving different actors was difficult. Capacity had to be built in order to move forward. The Constitution had not been changed or replaced.
Jean-Marie Ehouzou, Permanent Representative of the African Union in Geneva, extended his condolences to Belgium, and commended the efforts to resolve the crisis in Burundi. The African Union had taken many steps, however Africa could not do everything on its own. He called on the international community, for its support, which was necessary and urgent, especially in order to finance the deployment of human rights observers and the military observers of the African Union.
PIERRE CLAVER MBONIMPA, President of the Association pour la protection des droits humains des personnes détenues, replied to the question by the representative from Australia regarding justice and what practical options would be most appropriate to be undertaken by the international community for vulnerable groups affected by sexual violence. He noted that it should be the Minister of Justice that should be the first on call, however this was difficult as the justice system was not independent, and could not operate effectively. How could this happen when there was a President that was in charge of all powers, including the legislative and executive? Today as it stood, the Burundian justice system could not operate effectively. Mr. Mbonimpa referred to having visited homes of police officers that had been used to store arms, which were thereafter given to youth. It was now those groups that were fighting.
Bertrand de Crombrugghe, Vice President and Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council, closed the meeting, stating that he hoped all the measures undertaken would lead to the restoration of an open democratic society in Burundi.
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