GENEVA (5 March 2019) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet today announced, with deep regret, that the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was closed down on Thursday 28 February at the insistence of the Government.
“It is with deep regret that we have had to close our office in Burundi after a 23-year presence in the country,” Bachelet said. “Since the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was established in 1995, for many years we worked with the Government on peacebuilding, security sector reform, justice sector reform and helped build institutional and civil society capacity on a whole host of human rights issues.”
The UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was set up in 1995, in the context of massive human rights violations perpetrated in the country following the assassination of then President Melchior Ndadaye. The Office helped ensure the incorporation of a human rights dimension to the implementation of the Arusha Agreement, which was the bedrock of the country's stability for many years. The Office played a leading role in the establishment of the independent National Commission on Human Rights, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in legislative reforms and in the emergence of strong civil society organizations.
“Unfortunately, many of these human rights gains have been seriously jeopardized since 2015,” Bachelet said.
In October 2016, the Government – in reaction to the report by the UN Independent Investigation in Burundi established by the UN Human Rights Council – suspended all cooperation with the Office in Burundi.
“This meant that UN human rights staff were severely hampered in their ability to look into allegations of violations,” the High Commissioner said. Nonetheless, the UN Human Rights Office, in Burundi itself and at its Geneva headquarters, has continued to receive allegations of human rights violations and abuses.
Two years after the suspension of cooperation, on 5 December 2018, the Government requested the closure of the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi, explaining that the country had made sufficient progress in putting in place national mechanisms for the protection of human rights, so the existence of the Office was no longer justified.
“Our reports on the human rights situation in Burundi have always been developed in a constructive spirit, intended to support the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. But I am disappointed by Burundi’s lack of cooperation in recent years with UN human rights mechanisms – which even went so far as to include threats to prosecute members of the independent international Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council,” High Commissioner Bachelet said.
Bachelet paid tribute to the many human rights defenders and civil society actors in Burundi who have worked with inspiring dedication, perseverance, courage and expertise through many political and social crises in the country, while noting with concern that in recent years, many of them have been detained or forced into exile.
“Even as our Office in Burundi closes, we will continue to explore other ways to work to shed light on human rights concerns and support the advocacy, promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” she said.
“The Government has expressed its readiness to work with UN Human Rights Office after the closure of our Country Office and we stand ready to engage constructively. I also call on the Government of Burundi to cooperate with all relevant UN human rights mechanisms, including UN independent experts and human rights treaty bodies.”