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Human Rights Council decides to urgently dispatch a mission to Burundi to investigate violations and abuses of human rights

AFTERNOON

17 December 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon adopted a resolution in which it requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently organize and dispatch a mission to Burundi to swiftly investigate violations and abuses of human rights with a view to preventing the further deterioration of the human rights situation.

In a resolution on preventing the deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi, the Council strongly condemned the ongoing serious violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi by all actors and the excessive use of force by the security forces against demonstrators and other civilians.  It also condemned retributive acts of violence, including targeted assassinations, the climate of impunity in which these acts were committed, and the incendiary statements of some actors in the country.  The Council called upon the Burundian authorities to protect the people against acts of intimidation and violence, promote transparent accountability for all human rights violations and abuses, and conduct thorough and independent investigations of serious violations and abuses of human rights so that all perpetrators were held to account. 

The Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently organize and dispatch a mission to Burundi to swiftly investigate violations and abuses of human rights with a view to preventing the further deterioration of the human rights situation.  The mission was requested to engage with the Burundian authorities and all other relevant stakeholders to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses, including by identifying alleged perpetrators, to adopt appropriate transitional justice measures, and to maintain the spirit of the Arusha Agreement.

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said that this draft resolution and the Special Session had as a stated purpose to prevent genocide in Burundi, but were an attempt by some countries to influence international agendas.  Burundi was no longer a colonized country but a sovereign one which was led by women and men who had received a legitimate mandate during the last elections.  The resolution aimed to establish a mission of independent experts to investigate human rights violations and there was doubt about the added value of this initiative, given that the Council had already adopted a resolution on technical assistance and capacity building to Burundi, which still needed to be implemented. 

In the discussion on the human rights situation in Burundi, speakers welcomed the holding of this Special Session and the additional steps identified through Human Rights Council mechanisms to help Burundi overcome the violence and insecurity in the country.  Burundi must step up its fight against impunity and bring all perpetrators to justice.  Speakers reiterated the common responsibility to enhance political dialogue in the country.  Tensions in Burundi showed ethnic divisions and held real risk to escalate to the worst atrocities.  The vicious cycle had started in Burundi which could only be tackled by the responsible behaviour of all politicians, the army and the Government.

Speaking were New Zealand, the International Organisation of la Francophonie, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Croatia, Ecuador and Tanzania.

Also talking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders, Caritas International, Dominicans for Justice and Peace – Order of Preaches, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, World Evangelical Alliance, United Nations Watch, Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme, Civicus (in a joint statement with East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Centre indépendant de recherché et d’initiative pour le dialogue (in a joint statement with Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Coopération Economique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale).

In the action on the draft resolution, the United States took the floor to introduce the draft text; the Netherlands spoke in a general comment on behalf of the European Union; and Burundi spoke as the concerned country.

The Special Session opened this morning with keynote statements by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Adama Dieng, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Michael Addo, Special Rapporteur on the right of internally displaced persons and the Chair of Coordinating Committee of the Special Procedures; and Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union.

A summary of their statements can be found here.

This was the Human Rights Council’s twenty-fourth Special Session.  Documentation relating to the Special Session, including the resolution, is available on the Human Rights Council webpage. The thirty-first regular session of the Human Rights Council will take place from 29 February to 24 March 2016.

Discussion

1          New Zealand was deeply troubled at the growing violence in Burundi and the impact of the ongoing crisis on the people of Burundi as well as on the stability of the wider region.  As a co-sponsor of the resolution, New Zealand welcomed the creation of the proposed human rights mission by the High Commissioner and its proposed objectives, and called upon all parties to the crisis to assist in the full implementation of its mandate.

Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie wished to express its concern about the situation in Burundi, which threatened the stability of the country and the entire region.  In this direction, the Secretary General of the Francophonie had urged an inclusive dialogue and had appointed a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes.  Since July 2015, Burundi had been placed under observation by the Council of the Francophonie and a resumption of the political dialogue was a prerequisite for it regaining full membership status. 

Democratic Republic of Congo said it was concerned by the acts of violence in Burundi which had a direct impact on the peace and security.  The acts of violence were the result of the instrumentalization of youth carried out by political players, who sought power due to a misunderstanding of the Arusha Agreement.  The punishment of such perpetrators was needed. 

Uganda said that the proposed regional mediation to establish a peace process between the Government and the opposition was the best way to finding a lasting solution.  The Summit of the East African Community in July 2015 had appointed President Yoweri Museveni to facilitate a dialogue at the regional level.  He had actively used his good offices to facilitate communication and negotiations which successfully defined the priority issues between the parties in conflict.  However, the dialogue was temporarily interrupted while informal consultations continued.

Sudan said that the critical situation in Burundi in light of the current crisis required utmost caution in providing assistance in line with the principle of international cooperation to enable it to strengthen the protection of human rights.  Sudan commended international and African efforts to restore peace and stability, and the efforts deployed by the African Union Commission and the East African Community in supporting the Government of Burundi to restore stability.

Croatia welcomed the holding of this Special Session and the additional steps identified through Human Rights Council mechanisms to help Burundi overcome violence and insecurity in the country.  Burundi must step up its fight against impunity and bring perpetrators to justice.  Croatia commended regionally-led mediation efforts and said that it was a common responsibility to enhance political dialogue in Burundi.

Ecuador expressed concern about the violence in Bujumbura and elsewhere in the country and condemned ethnic-based incitement to violence.  Burundi must take all possible steps to stop the violence and find inclusive solutions on the basis of democracy and respect for human rights.  The international community should strengthen its efforts and provide humanitarian assistance to the region. 

Tanzania was deeply troubled by the continuing crisis in Burundi, whose effects were spilling into neighbouring countries.  Tanzania alone was sheltering 126,000 refugees from Burundi and it called on all parties to the conflict to exercise utmost restraint.  Tanzania recalled the primary responsibility of Burundi to protect its population and stressed that peace finding initiatives must be guided by the Constitution of Burundi and the provisions of the Arusha Peace Agreement.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said that since May 2015, the population of Burundi had been living in fear.  Over 600 assassinations had been perpetrated by the police and others.   Many journalists had fled the country and civil society had not been spared.  Mr. Pierre Claver Mbonipa had barely escaped, but his son-in-law and his own son had been killed.  The Council should urgently establish an inquiry mission in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Caritas Internationalis deplored the escalating violent situation in Burundi which was now at a critical level.  The killings constituted grave violations of human dignity.  The country was on the brink of an ethnic civil war with catastrophic repercussions.  CARITAS urged the international community to take urgent measures to ensure the security of the Burundi population, among others, and to appoint an Independent Expert on the situation in Burundi.

Dominicans for Justice and Peace Order of Preachers said Burundi was on fire. The pursuit of alleged thieves had been carried out in a way that had gone far beyond any international norms for dealing with armed robbers.  Several witnesses had reported the kidnapping of young persons from their homes by military and police in uniforms and their summary execution by being shot in the head or the heart.  The priority was not to impose sanctions which would punish the poor in Burundi.

Human Rights Watch said that the human rights situation in Burundi had reached a new low.  Last Friday, scores of people had been killed in the capital Bujumbura in the most serious incident since the crisis had started in April.  The Government and opposition groups had increasingly resorted to violence.  The investigations promised by the Burundi authorities had not resulted in concrete actions to hold perpetrators to account.  Human Rights Watch called for the creation of an Independent Expert.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues said that human rights violations committed in Burundi could constitute crimes against humanity, in the competence of the International Criminal Court, to which Burundi was a State party.  The Council should call upon the High Commissioner for Human Rights to appoint as soon as possible a mission of inquiry with a mandate to end the impunity.

World Evangelical Alliance said that tensions in Burundi showed ethnic divisions and held real risk to escalate into the worst atrocities.  The vicious cycle had started in Burundi which could only be tackled by the responsible behaviour of all politicians, the army and the Government.  A Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burundi should be appointed.

United Nations Watch welcomed the initiative to hold this Special Session and speak out for the men, women and children of Burundi, who could face possible genocide.  With the election of Burundi to the Human Rights Council, the United Nations had sent to Burundi a message of impunity and it should cancel Burundi’s new membership before it started on 1 January 2016.

Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme said that the principal perpetrators of violence in Burundi must be brought to justice, called for an arms embargo, and called upon the Government of Burundi to ensure proper respect for international humanitarian law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

CIVICUS, in a joint statement with East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project,  remained deeply concerned that State security forces continued to carry out widespread atrocities on a daily basis in a climate of impunity, including targeting civilians, representatives of civil society, and members of the political opposition.  It was imperative that the Human Rights Council appoint an expert to investigate the situation of human rights violations.

International Service for Human Rights welcomed the Special Session, but regretted the Council’s inability and States’ unwillingness to respond earlier and in a more preventive fashion.  The International Service supported the steps envisaged in today’s draft resolution to enhance the United Nation’s monitoring and investigation role and to provide regular feedback to the Human Rights Council.

Amnesty International said that the gravity of the human rights situation in Burundi and the danger of its further and rapid deterioration were beyond doubt.  While it was clear that the Government faced an extremely challenging security situation, characterised by armed attacks on the security forces, the Government had to confront these challenges in a manner consistent with human rights and the rule of law. 

Centre indépendant de recherché et d’initiative pour le dialogue, in a joint statement with Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Coopération Economique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale, invited the Members of the Human Rights Council to adopt by consensus today’s resolution.  It regretted that since May 2015, civil and political liberties had been restrained and called on the Government and its partners to consider that the current configuration was reminiscent of 1972 and 1996, when there had been the genocide of Hutus and Tutsis. 

Action on the Resolution on Preventing the Deterioration of the Human Rights Situation in Burundi

In a resolution (A/HRC/S-24/L.1) on preventing the deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi, adopted without a vote, the Council strongly condemns the ongoing serious violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi by all actors, particularly the restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the excessive use of force by the security forces against demonstrators and other civilians, retributive acts of violence, including targeted assassinations, the climate of impunity in which these acts are committed, and the incendiary statements of some actors in the country.  The Council calls upon the Burundian authorities to undertake to protect the people of Burundi against unlawful acts of intimidation and violence, to adhere to the rule of law and promote transparent accountability for all human rights violations and abuses, and to conduct thorough and independent investigations of serious violations and abuses of human rights so that all perpetrators, regardless of their affiliation, are held to account. 

The Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently organize and dispatch a mission by independent existing experts to: undertake an investigation into violations and abuses of human rights with a view to preventing further deterioration of the human rights situation; make recommendations on the improvement of the human rights situation and on technical assistance to support reconciliation and the implementation of the Arusha Agreement; engage with the Burundian authorities and all other relevant stakeholders to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses, including by identifying alleged perpetrators, to adopt appropriate transitional justice measures and to maintain the spirit of the Arusha Agreement; and issue an oral update and participate in an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Burundi at the thirty-first session of the Human Rights Council, and to issue a final report and participate in an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Burundi at the thirty-third session.

United States, introducing draft resolution S.24/L.1 on preventing the deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi, said that the proposed text built on the consensus resolution passed during the thirtieth session of the Human Rights Council.  The resolution condemned ongoing violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi and urged all to promote a climate of respect based on the Arusha Agreement in order to reach a peaceful solution.  The resolution requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently deploy an expert mission to investigate abuses and violations of human rights.  The United States welcomed the pressure by the international community to maintain political dialogue and said that the resolution sought to keep international attention on the dire human rights situation in Burundi and to keep the pressure on the stakeholders to seek dialogue for peaceful solution. 

Netherlands, speaking in a general comment on behalf of the European Union, said that the Human Rights Council was meeting again to express its grave concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi.  The Council must act in keeping with its mandate and the European Union supported the draft resolution which aimed to condemn all human rights abuses committed in Burundi and was in line with the Council’s resolution in October 2015, and the Security Council’s resolution 2248 of November 2015.  The draft resolution would not only allow documentation of abuses and perpetrations, but would also allow identification of the perpetrators, and would feed into the future work of the Human Rights Council on Burundi.

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said that this draft resolution and the Special Session had as a stated purpose to prevent genocide in Burundi, but were an attempt by some countries to influence international agendas.  Burundi was no longer a colonized country but a sovereign one which was led by women and men who had received a legitimate mandate during the last elections.  The resolution aimed to establish a mission of independent experts to investigate human rights violations and there was doubt about the added value of this initiative, given that the Council had already adopted a resolution on technical assistance and capacity building to Burundi, which still needed to be implemented. 

Closing Remarks

JOACHIM RÜCKER, President of the Human Rights Council, said that the report of the Special Session was being finalized and would be soon posted on the intranet.  The Council then adopted the report of the session ad referendum and closed the twenty-fourth Special Session.

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