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Committee against Torture considers report of Burundi

Burundi reviewed

29 July 2016

GENEVA (29 July 2016) - The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the special report of Burundi on the measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
Jens Modvig, Chairperson of the Committee, explained that, during the Committee’s 2015 session and due to the worrying developments in Burundi, the Committee had asked for a special report which would answer a series of pressing questions.
Presenting the report, Aimée Laurentine Kanyana, Minister of Justice,  informed that the Constitution of Burundi read that nobody should be subjected to torture or other cruel or inhuman treatment.  The Criminal Code defined torture in line with the Convention.  Torture was prohibited throughout the country, and its perpetrators were tracked down, tried and punished in line with the Burundian law.  The Government of Burundi was aware of its responsibility to protect, promote and make fundamental rights and freedoms effective throughout the country.  When there were violations, perpetrators were punished according to the law.  The Criminal Procedures Code provided for reparations for victims of acts by State agents.  Members of the Imbonerakure youth were individuals like anyone else and, if they committed offences, they would be prosecuted and punished under the auspices of the law, in line with the Criminal Code.  A number of  biased alternative reports lacked credibility, which was why the Government of Burundi insisted to be informed about all reports relating to it.
Committee Experts expressed serious concern about the grave situation in Burundi, in particular the apparent culture of impunity for certain armed groups.  Numerous questions were raised over the history, role and composition of the Imbonerakure group, whose ties to the authorities were probed.  Experts listed a number of offences, including killings and enforced disappearances, for which the group was suspected, and asked for detailed clarifications.  Questions were also asked about the lack of protection of journalists and human rights defenders, the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators, the use of rape as a weapon, arbitrary arrests and holding the security apparatus accountable for torture and ill-treatment.  Other issues raised included extrajudicial executions in the wake of the 2010 elections, compensation to the victims, combatting hate speech, and the results of the training programmes for law enforcement officials. 
The second part of the meeting was conducted without the presence of the delegation of Burundi, which had, instead, sent a note verbale in which it requested that the Committee provide the Government with enough time to prepare detailed responses to the allegations raised in the shadow reports of which it had not been aware. 
The Committee regretted that the State party had discontinued the interactive dialogue.  It said it would issue concluding observations on Burundi’s special report based on the information currently available.
The delegation of Burundi included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Human Rights, Social Affairs and Gender, the Prosecutor General and the Permanent Mission of Burundi to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 2 August at 3 p.m., to start considering the second periodic report of Mongolia (CAT/C/MNG/2).
The special report of Burundi is available here
JENS MODVIG, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the Committee had requested Burundi to submit a special report, under Article 19 of the Convention.  The second periodic report of Burundi had been submitted in 2012, and considered by the Committee in 2014.  In the follow-up recommendations, the State party had been called upon to undertake all possible measures to combat impunity and identify and punish identified perpetrators.  In 2015, due to the worrying developments in Burundi, the Committee had asked for a special report which would answer a series of pressing questions.  The submission of the special report by Burundi and the presence of the delegation in Geneva today were appreciated.  
Presentation of the Report
AIMÉE LAURENTINE KANYANA, Minister of Justice of Burundi, expressed gratitude for this chance to clarify a number of points which had arisen since the consideration of the second periodic report of Burundi.  It was a fine occasion for the Government of Burundi to present to the international community its efforts to promote and protect human rights.  The Government of Burundi encouraged comprehensive respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Burundian criminal procedures were in line with the Convention. 
The Government of Burundi had adopted laws to combat impunity.  Article 25 of the Constitution read that nobody should be subjected to torture or other cruel or inhuman treatment.  The Criminal Code defined torture in line with the Convention.  Torture was prohibited throughout the country, and its perpetrators were tracked down, tried and punished in line with Burundian law.  All confessions of guilt obtained under torture were invalid.  A law on the protection of victims had also just been enacted.
Ms. Kanyana informed that the Government of Burundi was aware of its responsibility to protect, promote and make fundamental rights and freedoms effective throughout the country.  When there were violations, perpetrators were punished according to the law.  Criminal police inquiries and criminal proceedings brought forward by a prosecutor were complementary.  At the administrative level, efforts were made to ensure that judicial services were available to litigants, police activities were regularly audited, and that judges and judicial officials regularly receiving training.  Itinerant courts were set up so that proceedings could be organized swiftly.  In December 2015, a training seminar had been organized for judges and prosecutors on human rights in the administration of justice.  Awareness raising campaigns continued with the view of ensuring that impunity was combatted.  A number of relevant national policies – on human rights, gender, protection of children, and legal aid – were all in place. 
Voluntary acts to deprive persons of life were naturally criminalized in Burundi, explained Ms. Kanyana.  Article 289 of the Criminal Procedures Code provided for reparations for victims of actions by State agents.  After paying compensation, a recourse proceeding would be brought forward against the torturer.  The Government was striving to provide effective protection to victims and witnesses across the country.  The law was enforced without any discrimination, and criminal responsibility was individual, to which the number of police officers imprisoned in Burundi testified.
Regarding the Imbonerakure youth, it was explained that their members were individuals and if they committed offences, they would be prosecuted and punished under the auspices of the law, in line with the Criminal Code.  Young people could be given a political stamp only when they were formally mandated by a political party, but it would still not provide them with immunity if they were to break the law.  When young party members, whoever they were, committed offences, they would be prosecuted accordingly.  On several occasions, the existence of certain biased reports had come to the Government’s attention through the press.  The allegations were based on information from anonymous sources, which could not be verified, or furnished from opposition figures, who wanted to tarnish the image of Burundi.  They lacked credibility, which was why the Government of Burundi insisted that it was kept informed about all reports relating to it.  The Committee also referred to impunity, which was based on dubious information, stereotypes and stigma.  It was reiterated that the Government of Burundi was committed to pursuing policies to strengthen the rule of law and increase the space of freedoms and protection of human rights.     
Questions by Experts
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Burundi, regretted the absence in the delegation of representatives of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence.
All the information submitted to the Committee spoke of the total breakdown of the rule of law, which had been confirmed by a number of organizations and United Nations bodies.  The Security Council had expressed its concern through resolution 2279 (2016), while the United Nations Secretary-General, the Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court and the African Union had also all weighed in. 
It was good that the special report had been finally submitted, but the information provided in it was very general and often irrelevant, not answering the most pertinent questions by the Committee.  It would, nonetheless, present a good basis for discussion.
Regarding the Imbonerakure, Mr. Touze was concerned about the alleged acts of murder or torture perpetrated by that youth group against any political opponents.  The delegation had described them as independent from the State authorities.  However, there was no information on any prosecution, while the group was reported to have been implicated in various breaches of the Convention.  What was the structure of the group, and if they were armed, who provided them with the weapons?  Were they trained and paid by the Burundian authorities?  Were the Imbonerakure allowed to arrest persons, and under which circumstances were they allowed to intervene in situations?  Questions were also asked about the group’s links with the police and the army.
The Expert wanted to know the precise list of actions taken against the group, and more information on the procedures and verdicts.  Details were sought on the murder of Laurent Gasasuma, in January 2016, by 12 young Imbonerakure, and the execution of five youth in December 2015.
Turning to the issue of assassinations and harassment of political opponents, the Expert asked about the investigations into the murders of Faustin Ndabi Tezi Mana and Zedi Feruzi, opposition party members.  How about the absence of information on the case of Pierre Claver Mbonimpa? What had happened with the commission of inquiry on the attacks by the security forces against civilians in Bujumbura on 11 and 12 December 2015?  Information was also sought on the acts of torture committed by the national intelligence services in the vicinity of the Bujumbura Cathedral.
The delegation was asked to provide precise answers on the attacks against human rights defenders and the media.  Many journalists were constantly harassed when conducting their jobs.  Human rights defenders were seen as political opponents.  What was happening with the investigations into the murders of journalists, specifically Christophe Nkeza Bahizi and Jean-Baptiste Bireha.
Questions were asked on the disproportionate use of force against demonstrations.  Would there be investigations in the 26 April 2015 events?
Arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions had been regularly noted in Burundi.  Many had taken place under dubious conditions and often targeted political opponents.  There were reportedly nine mass graves around the capital, figures mostly contested by the authorities.  What was the current state of play vis-à-vis the investigations?  How many corpses had been recovered and identified?  Had steps been taken to ascertain causes of death?
The Expert noted that there had been numerous allegations of sexual violence against women, including by the Imbonerakure, police and the military.  Rape seemed to be used as a weapon of repression when round-ups or searches took place.  The State party was asked to provide forceful evidence that the authorities were not involved in such activities and that the perpetrators were prosecuted.
The Arusha Accords between the Hutu and the Tutsi had been undermined by the President’s candidacy for a third mandate, noted the Expert.  The current crisis in Burundi was of a political nature.  Details were asked about declarations which had genocidal overtones, and worry was expressed over the growing ethnic dimension of the crisis.
Mr. Touze asked why the State party believed that the fear of reprisals was not real.  
Some non-governmental organizations had been accused of being financed by external powers to destabilize the Government and stop the development of Burundi.  The ruling party was supported by the Imbonerakure, which seemed to be a tool for taking strong measures against the civil sector. 
Was the State party going to take measures to ensure that the Military Criminal Code criminalized the act of torture?  How were the acts committed by military officers prosecuted?  Clarification was also sought on the State party’s position on the statute of limitations.
Another issue was the lack of an organic law on Burundi’s security forces.  There seemed not to exist an effective control of police activities.  Could the organizational chart of various security forces be provided, so that the Committee could understand the interaction and who was to be held responsible for a number of violations?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for Burundi, asked for details on the national human rights policy.  Who was in charge of implementing it?
What was the relationship between the police forces, judges and the national intelligence service?  How about the relations of the Imbonerakure , the judiciary and the army?
There seemed to be wide-spread denial of the right to life.  Human dignity started with the right to life and ultimately entailed the right to physical integrity.  Part of the liability lay with the judicial branch, which still seemed to be under the yoke of the executive.
Sometimes prosecutors questioned suspects in police stations or at the premises of the national intelligence service.  There were many examples which indicated that magistrates were in a tricky situation.  If the judicial authority was not respected, there was no rule of law.
On extrajudicial executions, Ms. Belmir asked for details on the period between April 2015 and April 2016, during which hundreds of people had been reportedly killed.  Appropriate inquiries ought to be undertaken.  Initial information showed that there was a disproportionate use of lethal force during protests.  Proceedings had been brought, and rulings had to be issued.
The Imbonerakure seemed to be involved in investigations, and reportedly had more authority and power than the police forces themselves.  They attacked and intimidated opponents, said the Expert.
Torture was carried out in various places of detention, official and unofficial, including at the secret services location close to the Bujumbura Cathedral.  People were tortured so that they confessed. 
Arbitrary arrests seemed to be used to monitor and control the population’s movements, as a local official had declared.  How could people be arrested in an arbitrary fashion in a country which said it respected the rule of law?  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had judged more than 3,000 arrests between April 2015 and April 2016 as arbitrary. 
Burundi needed to have transitional justice, the Expert stressed and asked when it would happen.  The executive did not seem to be encouraging the drafting of texts which would reform the country’s justice system.  The draft constitutional reform, which would alter the composition of the Judicial Council, had not yet been adopted.
In most cases of torture, said Ms. Belmire, there seemed to be a common shared link of cajoling the arrested into confessing.  They had no access to doctors after ill-treatment.
There seemed to be no special system for children in conflict with the law.  Instead, they were treated as adults, which should not be the case.    
Another Expert raised the issue of the definition of torture in Burundi’s Penal Code.  The definition lacked several elements, such as torture being a form of punishment and intimidation. 
A national preventive mechanism had not yet been set up, said the Expert.  Setting up such a mechanism was all the more urgent given the impunity enjoyed by the security forces. 
Regarding the young militants of the Imobonerakure, who reportedly numbered 50,000, more details were asked on their size, and how the group had come into existence in the first place.  Who was the person in charge?
The Expert asked for tangible results of the training exercises for judicial and law enforcement officials. 
Details were sought over the inquiries into various incidents where excessive use of force had been reported.  Had any recommendations provided by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights been implemented?
An Expert raised the problem of impunity, and inquired about police officers suspected of torture who had been promoted to a higher, responsible position. 
Juvenile delinquents of the Imbonerakure did not enjoy any immunity, the delegation had stated, but they seemed to be indeed linked to the State apparatus and its security structures.  They even had their representatives on the joint security committee, along with the representatives of legitimate security and local authorities.  It was concerning that the militia group had found its way into a governmental coordination body.  What was the State party planning to do in that regard?  What measures were being taken to ensure that the youth movement did not cause any harm?
What steps was the Government planning to take to shed light on the matter of mass graves, asked the Expert.
The national human rights commission had a very high rating and had conducted important work in the past.  What steps were being taken to ensure that its work continued independently and that it had the resources necessary for its work?
A question was also raised on steps taken to combat hate speech.
Another Expert asked what the State party was doing to ensure that those accused of torture were not promoted.
The issue of compensation was brought up by an Expert, who wanted to know about the numbers of victims and the amount of compensation they had received.  Information was sought about the law on the protection of victims and witnesses. 
Article 15 of the Convention was rooted in the absolute prohibition of torture, said the Expert.  Burundi media outlets had presented numerous cases of those who had been tortured into confessing to the crimes they had been accused of.  Evidence obtained under duress should not be used in courts. 
How many police officers had been charged so far, sentenced and put in prison for torture, asked the Expert.  Could some names be provided?
An Expert noted that the Committee very rarely asked States to come up with special reports.  The prevention of torture and ill-treatment were the key purposes of the Convention.  The current review was being undertaken with the view of trying to prevent the worst events.  It was troubling that the report said, page after page, that the allegations of the acts of torture were unfounded and the issue of impunity raised by the Committee untrue.  If there were reports of impunity, a preferred answer would be that the Government had investigated thoroughly.  Instead, the answers were that it was all allegations.
On the issue of enforced disappearances, the Expert brought up serious allegations and asked whether the delegation had any reliable data and information to share with the Committee.
Rape had reportedly been used by the security forces and the Imbonerakure, said the Expert.  It was disturbing to hear that there were even songs promoting rape sung at pro-government rallies.  What investigations had taken place into the issue of rape and sexual violence?  Had any members of the Imbonerakure been held accountable?  What affirmative measures were being taken to prevent that?  A question was also asked about the existence of a vetting process.
Some 275,000 people had fled Burundi, according to the data of the United Nations Refugee Agency.  Refugees had provided many accounts of killings, torture and fear.  The terrified population was fleeing Burundi in large numbers, said the Expert and asked for the delegation’s comments on the mass outflow of people from Burundi.  
A question was asked on whether there had been any prosecutions for extrajudicial executions which had taken place after the 2010 elections?  Information was asked on a number of specific cases, including that of Leandre Bukuru.
An Expert inquired about the possible purges of Tutsu ethnic officers from the Armed Forces.  Had such purges taken place, which would be contrary to the very fragile Arusha Agreement?
The delegation was asked to inform whether there were any illegal or secret detention centres in Burundi.
One Expert wondered what the Committee could do with the concluding observations it reached.  Perhaps it would need to turn to other competent bodies in the field.    
Note Verbale from Burundi
The delegation did not show up at the second meeting at which it was expected to provide replies.  Instead, it had responded through a note verbale sent to the Secretariat of the Committee against Torture.  The note read that the Burundian Government had submitted a special report as requested by the Committee.  Consequently, the delegation had expected the Committee to address the subjects addressed in the special report. 
The delegation closely listened to all the questions raised by the Committee in the first meeting, and realized that the subjects raised were not only those of concern, but instead covered a plethora of other points never addressed to the Government.  The delegation was surprised to see that the subject of the debate had focused on the shadow report submitted to the Committee on 26 July, which had never been communicated to the Government of Burundi so that it could prepare its responses.  None of the non-governmental organizations or their international partners had ever communicated those issues to the Government or made similar complaints.  Burundi believed that the shadow report should have been communicated earlier to the Government so that it could assess the allegations. 
For that reason, the Government of Burundi requested that the Committee provide it with enough time for it to prepare detailed responses.  It refuted all allegations questioning the legal system and alleging that international crimes had been committed in Burundi.  The Government emphasized that there was a need to thoroughly address the allegations made by the non-governmental organizations.  It was counterproductive to raise such allegations in the way done by the Committee, which was harmful to both the people and the Government of Burundi.  At the end of the note verbale, the Government reiterated its commitment to cooperate with human rights treaty bodies.
Concluding Remarks
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, informed that the Committee, which had just met in private, regretted that the State party had discontinued the interactive dialogue.  The Committee had taken note of the procedural comments made by Burundi, but also noted that all the material that the Committee had received, and to which Burundi was referring, had been made public.  The Committee would issue concluding observations on Burundi’s special report based on the information currently available.  The State party would be able to furnish additional information within 48 hours if it so wished.  At the end of the session, the concluding observations on Burundi would be published along with the concluding observations of other States parties whose reports had been considered.  
Mr. Modvig also informed that the Committee had just sent a letter to the Permanent Mission of Burundi informing the State party of the Committee’s decision.  Both this letter and the letter sent earlier by the State party to the Secretariat would be published on the Committee’s website on 2 August.


For use of the information media; not an official record