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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON 

12 March 2019

The Human Rights Council in a midday meeting held an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. 

Doudou Diène, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, assured the Council that as the only international mechanism with a mandate to independently investigate the human rights situation in Burundi, which remained of great concern, the Commission of Inquiry would continue to focus on its mission.  The Commission was rigorous and impartial in its work.  In light of the elections in 2020, the mandate was extremely important.  The Commission urged the Government of Burundi to allow it to visit the country. 

Francoise Hampson, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said the Government had declared that the preparations for the presidential and legislative elections of 2020 were now the priority of the Government.  These efforts were taking place at a very particular juncture because the political crisis stemming from the 2015 presidential election had not yet been resolved.  The Burundian population was still feeling the effect of this, through frequent acts of violence that were pushing people to leave the country.  The closure of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 28 February 2019 was deeply regretted. 

Lucy Asuagbor, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that Burundi was one of the poorest countries in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of Burundians were refugees in neighbouring countries.  Many were continuing to leave the country.  Of the thousands of refugees who voluntarily returned in 2018, many had been forced to leave again after being castigated for leaving and being subjected to intimidation and threats after being seen as opposition sympathizers by the Imbonerakure and the local authorities.  The security situation remained of great concern.

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said it was happy to take part in the interactive dialogue.  However, the Commission of Inquiry was in its third term, and it was high time to consider other channels in the spirit of serene and healthy cooperation which respected the sovereignty of the Burundian people.  Burundi rejected the report, which was more a political conspiracy than an investigation of the United Nations.  There had been attempts to present lies and libel that violated the guidelines of the Commission’s mandate.  The United Nations could not be allowed to interfere in the national competencies of any State.  It was time for the international community to see that this Commission was invalidating the valuable work being done by the Government of Burundi.  The Government was ready to cooperate with the bodies of the United Nations in an open dialogue, despite its libel over the closure of the country office in Burundi, however, they would do so in a balanced and respectful manner. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed their deep concern about persistent arbitrary detentions, torture, sexual violence and summary executions perpetrated in a climate of impunity in Burundi.  The decision of the Government to close the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country was regrettable.  The persistent hostile attitude of Burundi since 2015 towards international human rights mechanisms was noted, including the threats issued against members of the Commission of Inquiry.  The inter-Burundian dialogue had reached a stalemate.  Speakers were also concerned about indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators, targeting of journalists and aggressive reprisals which had caused over 250,000 to flee this State-sponsored violence.  Other speakers said they saw a trend towards stabilization in Burundi, and strongly opposed this hostile mandate, as it did not contribute to human rights and was generating high costs. 

Speaking were European Union, Sudan, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Australia, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Myanmar, Chad, Ireland, Luxembourg, China, Tanzania, Ukraine, Norway, Cameroon and United Kingdom.

The following non-governmental organizations took the floor:  International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) (in a joint statement with TRIAL International, Centre for Civil and Political Rights, and East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Service for Human Rights , Advocates for Human Rights, Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l'homme, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The.

The Council will next hear the presentation of the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of recommendations made by the group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to be followed by a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Presentation by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, assured the Council that as the only international mechanism with a mandate to independently investigate the human rights situation in Burundi, which remained of great concern, the Commission of Inquiry would continue to focus on its mission.  The Commission was rigorous and impartial in its work.  In light of the elections in 2020, the mandate was extremely important.  The Commission noted with regret the policy of the Government of Burundi of non-cooperation with the majority of the independent human rights mechanisms.  The Commission invited the Government to embark on a constructive dialogue with the Commission, with a view to sharing any information that it saw appropriate on the situation of human rights in the country.  The Government claimed that human rights were protected and respected in Burundi.  The Commission urged the Government to allow it to visit the country.  The Commission would continue to gather information from victims and/or from direct witnesses of the violations and recent aggressions, both within and outside the country. 

FRANCOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said the Government had declared that the preparations for the presidential and legislative elections of 2020 were now the priority of the Government.  These efforts were taking place at a very particular juncture because the political crisis stemming from the 2015 presidential election had not yet been resolved.  The Burundian population was still feeling the effect of this, through frequent acts of violence that were pushing people to leave the country.  Efforts of mediation conducted by the East African Community to end the crisis seemed to have come to an impasse, after the Government of Burundi had boycotted the fifth and final session in October 2018 with no concrete outcome.  The East African Community had taken note of the report, but did not establish a future schedule for the talks and no new facilitator had been appointed.  The African Union continued to believe that an inclusive inter-Burundian dialogue remained the only option to resolving the crisis.  The Government of Burundi had not shown any inclination to engage in such a dialogue, or to fight against the climate of impunity that was dominant in the country. 

Ms. Hampson said that the key perpetrators presumed to be responsible for serious violations and international crimes since 2015 had not been prosecuted and still occupied positions of responsibility in the security and defence forces, including in the Imbonerakure.  The continuing impunity was due to the Burundian authorities not taking the necessary measures.  On 29 November 2018, the Government had opened a file on the 1993 assassination of President Melchior Ndayaye, and had overhauled the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and asked it to open inquiries into serious violations and crimes committed between 1885 and 2008; the Commission questioned why these inquiries were not extended to crimes committed since 2015.  The closure of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 28 February 2019 was deeply regretted.  All international activity by non-governmental organizations had been suspended for three months to force them to re-register and mention the ethnicity of their employees.  Many organizations had announced their intention to leave the country rather than comply with the new regulations based on ethnicity, which they deemed against their values.  The continuing shrinking of democratic space, which also affected national non-governmental organizations and independent media, was very worrying.

LUCY ASUAGBOR, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that Burundi was one of the poorest countries in the world.  According to recent estimates from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, one third of the population would continue to need humanitarian assistance in 2019, similar to the figure in 2018, and 56 per cent of children suffered from malnutrition.  Hundreds of thousands of Burundians were refugees in neighbouring countries.  Many were continuing to leave the country.  Of the thousands of refugees who voluntarily returned in 2018, many had been forced to leave again after being castigated for leaving and being subjected to intimidation and threats after being seen as opposition sympathizers by the Imbonerakure and the local authorities.  Men and women were detained, women and girls were raped, with the aim of preventing them from returning home and resuming their lives.  Their homes were stolen in their absence.  The Commission was worried about the continued harassment of Burundians in the run up to the elections in 2020.  Sexual violence was continuing.  Members of the opposition were targeted and arrested or eliminated.  Such acts could not eradicate the Commission’s concerns for the upcoming elections.  The Imbonerakure were omnipresent, and actively and continuously monitored the population.  The security situation remained of great concern with increasing incidents and attacks between armed opposition groups and security forces on Burundian territory, but also in border zones of neighbouring countries. 

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said the preparation and holding of elections in 2020 could have a major impact on the situation of human rights in Burundi over the coming months.  Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the existence of the rule of law State and political pluralism, were essential for the organization of democratic, free and credible elections in 2020.  The election campaign for 2020 must be open for independent media and candidates, and voters must not fear that they would be victims of intimidation or reprisals.

Statement by Burundi

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said it was happy to take part in the interactive dialogue.  However, the Commission of Inquiry was in its third term, and it was high time to consider other channels in the spirit of serene and healthy cooperation which respected the sovereignty of the Burundian people.  The delegation rejected the report, which was more a political conspiracy than an investigation of the United Nations.  There had been attempts to present lies and libel that violated the guidelines of the Commission’s mandate.  The United Nations could not be allowed to interfere in the national competencies of any State.  They asked how the Commission could allow itself to be used by mercenary figures, as in this report.  The Commission’s apocalyptic predictions of Burundi’s 2020 elections were misplaced, and it was time for the international community to see that this Commission was invalidating the valuable work being done by the Government of Burundi.  The Government was ready to cooperate with the bodies of the United Nations in an open dialogue, despite its libel over the closure of the country office in Burundi.  However, they would do so in a balanced and respectful manner.  The delegation asked the international community to refrain from all actions that would undermine this major election. 

Interactive Dialogue

European Union remained deeply concerned about persistent arbitrary detentions, torture, sexual violence and summary executions perpetrated in a climate of impunity in Burundi.  It regretted the decision of the Government to close the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country.  Sudan welcomed Burundi’s efforts to protect human rights and called on all parties to act in line with the Commission’s report.  The Commission should avoid any politicization and double standards.  Denmark noted that serious human rights violations continued to occur in Burundi and urged the authorities to investigate them and hold those responsible to account.  Denmark called on the Government to enhance cooperation with all relevant bodies and to engage in constructive cooperation and inclusive dialogue in order to solve the current crisis.

Belgium opposed the inappropriate reactions and slanderous accusations made by the Government of Burundi against the Commission of Inquiry.  Belgium remained concerned about the persistent summary executions, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and torture committed in the country.  Germany regretted the persistent hostile attitude of Burundi towards international human rights mechanisms, noting that the threats issued against members of the Commission of Inquiry and the closure of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country marked a particularly low point in that regard.  Australia encouraged Burundi to engage constructively with all United Nations human rights mechanisms, and urged the Government to ensure that members of its security forces and Imbonerakure showed restraint and that it held the perpetrators of crimes accountable. 

Russian Federation saw a trend towards stabilization in Burundi, noting the gradual return of refugees to the country.  The upcoming elections were a domestic issue and it was dangerous to blame the stalling of the inter-dialogue in Burundi on the Burundian authorities, so the African Union was called upon to engage on the issue.  Venezuela strongly opposed this hostile mandate, as it did not contribute to human rights and was generating high costs.  The provisions of resolution 60/251 of the General Assembly stated that only genuine dialogue and cooperation between countries could advance the protection of human rights.  Netherlands stressed that as long as the East African Community-led dialogue remained stalled, there would be no lasting solution for the root causes of the 2015 conflict.  In the run up to the 2020 elections, what measures should be taken by the Government to ensure political and human rights in Burundi?

France called on the Burundian authorities to take necessary measures to guarantee that political parties and civil society could actively participate in political life.  Burundi was called upon to cooperate with the United Nations mechanisms and their decision to close of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bujumbura was regretful.  Switzerland called on Burundi to implement recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review and treaty bodies and guarantee human rights protection.  What were the immediate and long-term consequences of the closure of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for the protection of human rights?  Myanmar noted that any action to improve human rights in a country had to be based on the consent of the concerned country.  The Universal Periodic Review was the suitable forum to address human rights as it provided equal treatment to all States through dialogue.

Chad welcomed the work of the international community, including the African Union, and its partner organizations, on Burundi.  Chad encouraged the Burundian Government to strengthen the national human rights commission, and to implement the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review.  Ireland regretted the recent closure of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bujumbura.  They remained concerned about continued reports of human rights violations and abuses committed by Burundian defence and security forces with impunity, which particularly affected women and children.  Luxembourg regretted the report’s findings, which described a country with a repressive or almost totalitarian system that did not tolerate any challenges to its power.  The inter-Burundian dialogue had reached a stalemate, and the Government had found reasons not to engage in constructive dialogue, which could not be in the interest of the Burundian people.

China said the current situation in Burundi was stable overall, and the Government had made constructive attempts to improve the situation of its people.  The Commission should respect the sovereignty of Burundi and refrain from politicizing human rights issues.  Tanzania commended the people of Burundi for the improvement in the security situation in the country.  They also underscored the centrality of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of August 2000 as the blueprint for a peaceful resolution of the political impasse in Burundi.  Ukraine remained deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi, including arbitrary arrest and restriction on the freedom of association and movement.  Burundi should take steps to ensure the voluntary repatriation of Burundian refugees from neighbouring countries.

Norway voiced concern about the inability of international human rights observers to carry out their independent investigations into the human rights situation in Burundi.  Norway encouraged Burundi to allow them to resume all activities without hindrance, and to ensure that civil society and the media operated in a safe and enabling environment.  Cameroon believed that the promotion and protection of human rights were the key drivers of international peace and stability.  Cameroon was in favour of serene and secure cooperation with Burundi, in strict respect for its sovereignty.  United Kingdom urged the Government of Burundi to reconsider its decision to close the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It welcomed the positive steps taken by the authorities, including the release of political prisoners and the registration of the political party, the National Congress for Freedom, but it remained concerned about continued human rights abuses.

International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), in a joint statement with TRIAL International, Centre for Civil and Political Rights, and East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, condemned the closure of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi and reminded that since 2015, Burundi had multiplied its refusals to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms.  It drew attention to the contributions for the 2020 elections which had been gathered forcibly from the population.  East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project expressed concern about several cases of arbitrary detentions – that of Germain Rukuki, Nestor Nibitanga, Emmanuel Nshimirimana, Aimé Constant Gatore and Marius Nizigama – and called for their immediate and unconditional release.  International Service for Human Rights called attention to the 2017 law on foreign non-governmental organizations, which had recently forced several international non-governmental organizations to end their activities in Burundi.  Those restrictions continued to limit access to the country and the documentation of human rights violations.

Advocates for Human Rights stressed that since 2015, the human rights crisis in Burundi had escalated both in extent and in brutality.  The indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators, targeting of journalists and activists and aggressive reprisals had caused over 250,000 to flee this State-sponsored violence.  Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme regretted that despite efforts of the United Nations mechanisms and the African Union and regional organizations, Burundi remained closed to all mechanisms.  Human rights defenders, activists and journalists continued to live in a climate of fear and torture.   CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that during the May 2018 referendum, local authorities, the police and intelligence services had summarily executed, abducted and intimidated those who voted against constitutional changes.  Media restrictions continued as most private radio stations had remained closed since 2015.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues documented 400 people, many of them women, who were killed, and thousands who were arbitrarily detained.  The perpetrators belonged to the security forces and Imbonerakure and were affiliated with the party in power.  Article 19 - International Centre against Censorship, The said that the update of the Commission painted a disturbing picture of the human rights situation.  Over 100 journalists had left the country due to fear from the Imbonerakure and those that remained had to turn to self-censorship, while all independent media had been shut down. 

Concluding Remarks

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said the situation in Burundi was extremely serious.  The preparations for the 2020 elections gave cause for concern due to the persistence of human rights violations, and it was important that the Government took steps to ensure these were propitious for human rights.  The Commission’s work had demonstrated it was necessary to remain highly vigilant.  A number of actions were necessary to improve the situation in Burundi, and these included ensuring accountability for human rights violations, the documentation of all violations, and the eventual prosecution of all perpetrators of human rights.

LUCY ASUAGBOR, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that in the run up to the 2020 elections, measures should be put in place to ensure that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly were ensured for all.  The Commission would be looking for evidence that the Government was allowing the voice of the people to be heard in an open election campaign. 

FRANCOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, stated that many bodies were trying to find ways to cooperate with Burundi, including the investigators of the African Union who were on the ground but could not carry out their work.  Ms. Hampson stressed that one could not support a friend by looking the other way.  Everything that harmed and hurt the people of Burundi had to be deplored.  If the international community did not want to have more refugees from Burundi, then the crisis in the country should be resolved.  In the context of the 2020 elections, Ms. Hampson emphasized that it was necessary for all political parties to have access to an independent media, and that the independent media had to be able to function.  People were forced to flee to other countries because they were members of the opposition, or because they were suspected of supporting the opposition.  It was clear that the closure of international non-governmental organizations would have a major humanitarian impact.  The Commission did not have specific information regarding those who had cooperated with the Commission, but there was a general climate of fear.  There was no doubt that working in the human rights arena in Burundi was dangerous.  Burundi should first work with the Commission to re-open the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Hampson concluded.

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For use of the information media; not an official record
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