Burundi: Call to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry

08.08.2018 ( Last modified: 09.08.2018 )

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Coun­cil”), we, the undersigned national, regional and international civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi.[1] Such a resolution should also ensure continuity for the work of the CoI through continued adequate resourcing of its secretariat, including its crucial investigative and evidence-gathering work.

The renewal of the CoI’s mandate is critically important to improve the human rights situation in Bu­rundi, and it offers the Council a number of practical and effective advantages. Among other things, it would allow the Council to:

  • Avoid a monitoring gap, which is all the more important given the Burundian Government’s ongoing refusal to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Com­missioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to sign a new Memo­randum of Under­standing regarding its presence in the coun­try;[2]
  • Ensure the continued documentation of human rights violations and abuses ahead of the upco­ming elections of 2020, through testimonies of victims, wit­nesses, human rights defenders, and other actors ope­ra­ting in and outside of the country;
  • Ensure ongoing public reporting and debates — while the African Union’s observers continue to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi despite a number of limitations imposed by the authorities, its findings are not publicly reported. Interactive dialogues at the Coun­cil provide the only regular space for public reporting and debates on human rights developments in the country; and
  • Enable the CoI to continue to highlight under-addressed aspects of the crisis — for instance, the Com­mis­sion has stressed the importance of dedicating more attention to violations of economic, social and cul­tural rights.

At the Council’s 36th session (September 2017), the CoI informed the HRC that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Burundi since 2015,” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” At the 37th and 38th sessions of the Council (March and June-July 2018), the CoI described a political, security, econ­omic, social and human rights situation that has not improved since September 2016. In March 2018, the Com­mission’s Chairperson, Mr. Doudou Diène, stressed that the situation in the country con­tinued to deserve the Council’s “utmost attention.” In October 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) autho­rised an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015. A pre­liminary exam­ination of the situation had been opened in April 2016.

The constitutional referendum that was held on 17 May 2018 was marred with violence and repression, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of citizens cam­paigning for a “no” vote.[3] In the Com­mission’s words, as of June 2018 “human rights violations, among which extrajudicial executions, enforced disap­pear­ances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment […], facilitated by a conti­nuing environment of threats and intimidation,” continue unabated. The CoI added: “The fact that several missing peo­ple have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country gives reason to fear the continuation of practices consisting of getting rid of the bodies of people arrested sometimes by individuals in police uniform or identified as agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) or the Imbonerakure.”[4]

Since it became a member of the Council, on 1st January 2016, Burundi has delivered multiple state­ments that have made clear its refusal to cooperate with human rights monitoring and investigation bodies and mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly launched attacks, which have sometimes des­cen­ded to a personal level, against the High Commissioner, UN officials, and inde­pendent experts. With no basis or evidence, it has publicly questioned the independence, competence, professionalism, inte­grity and legitimacy of High Commissioner Zeid and his Office, and has threatened, stigmatised, and exer­cised reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations.[5] Burundians who have sought protection outside of Burundi have been subjected to harassment and persecution, including by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure.

Members of the CoI continue to be denied access to Burundi. Furthermore, at the time of wri­ting, the Burundian authorities have withdrawn visas from the team of experts mandated by HRC resolution 36/2, despite the fact that the latter was adopted at Burundi’s own initiative, with its sup­port and the support of members of Burundi’s own regional group. Burundi’s action in this regard clearly violates its Council membership obligations.

Recalling the letter a group of civil society organisations wrote in Sep­tember 2017,[6] we urge the Council, consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, in­cluding gross and systematic violations, to pave the way for accountability by renew­ing the mandate of the CoI to enable it to continue monitoring human rights deve­lopments in the country, docu­menting viola­tions and abuses, and publicly reporting on the situation.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

 

Sincerely,

 

Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)

Amnesty International

Assistance Mission for Africa

Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)

Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)

Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Coalition burundaise pour la Cour pénale internationale (CB-CPI)

Coalition burundaise des défenseurs des droits de l’homme (CBDDH)

Collectif des avocats pour la défense des victimes de crimes de droit international commis au Burundi (CAVIB)

Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation South Sudan (CEPO)

DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

Eritrean Law Society (ELS)

Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)

Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)

Forum pour le renforcement de la société civile au Burundi (FORSC)

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)

Human Rights Watch

Information Forum for Eritrea (IFE)

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

International Youth for Africa

Ligue Iteka

Mouvement des femmes et des filles pour la paix et la sécurité (MFFPS)

National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya

National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda

Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

Reporters Sans Frontières

Réseau des citoyens probes (RCP)

SOS-Torture

Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)

The Ecumenical Network for Central Africa (ÖNZ)

TRIAL International

Union burundaise des journalistes (UBJ)

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

 

[1] See its webpage: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundi.aspx

[2] See the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement at the Council’s 37th session (OHCHR, “Introduction to country reports/briefings/updates of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under item 2,” 21-22 March 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22875&LangID=E, accessed 20 July 2018).

[3] FIDH and Ligue Iteka, “A forced march to a Constitutional Referendum,” May 2018, www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/report_burundi_may2018_referendum_on_constitution.pdf (accessed 27 July 2018).

[4] OHCHR, “Oral briefing by the members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi to the Human Rights Council,” 27 June 2018, www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23274&LangID=E (accessed 20 July 2018).

[5] See DefendDefenders, “Headlong Rush: Burundi’s behaviour as a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” www.defenddefenders.org/publication/headlong-rush-burundis-behaviour-as-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/ (accessed 25 July 2018).

[6] “Renewing the Mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and Ensuring Accountability for Serious Crimes,” 19 September 2018, www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/hrc36-renewing-the-mandate-of-the-commission-of-inquiry-on-burundi-and-ensuring-accountability-for-serious-crimes/ (accessed 30 July 2018).

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