Burundi: The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) is asking Burundi to face its responsibilities in a decision in favor of a victim
Will the Burundian government acknowledge its obligations or continue to ignore human rights violations committed on its territory?
In April 2022, the United Nations Committee against torture (CAT) issued a decision in favor of the complaint filed by Michèle (name withheld), in 2019.TRIAL International assisted the victim in submitting her case before the international human rights mechanism and then with international bodies in order to have the violence she suffered recognized, so that the government will open an investigation to establish the truth, have the perpetrators punished and allocate adequate reparations to the victims to compensate for the harm suffered.
Facing the indifference and inaction of the Burundian authorities, Michèle and TRIAL International brought the case before the CAT, in 2019, four years after the events. Three years later, the Committee issued a decision in favor of Michèle, acknowledging that the violence used against her could really be called an act of torture. The CAT is asking Burundi to lead a thorough investigation on the facts denounced by Michèle so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.
However, Michèle is happy and relieved by the recognition of her suffering by the CAT:
“I am very happy to learn that this decision is very favorable to me. Who wouldn’t be content to learn about a favorable decision of an international body? This decision is important because it acknowledges the violations I have been a victim of, but also recognizes my right to a compensation. This decision is an important step towards justice. Unfortunately, it does not change my living conditions, since I am currently unemployed because of my physical and psychological sufferings. The only way to make sense of this decision would be to compensate the prejudice suffered just as the CAT recommends” she confides.
Indeed, the UN committee is asking Burundi to compensate Michèle “in the most adequate and fairest way possible, including the means necessary to the most complete readaptation possible”.
A blind repression in a climate of impunity
On the 11 December 2015, non-identified armed individuals attacked four military bases. The Burundian government responded the next day with a violent and blind repression mainly in several neighborhoods of Bujumbura. According to estimations around 160 people were killed and many others were victims of violence, arbitrary arrests and rapes. Michèle was amongst the victims of this repression.
Member of the opposition called the Movement for solidarity and democracy, Michele was arrested arbitrarily in her home, on 12 December 2015. She was humiliated, beaten and tortured before being condemned and imprisoned in terrible conditions for three years in the central prison of Mpimba.
During the entire judicial procedure against her and during her several auditions, Michèle mentioned the violence she endured to the judges and legal authorities, but she was never heard by the Burundian authorities. No investigation was launched and the denunciations were ignored. Six years and half after the facts, the perpetrators are still unpunished.
The use of international bodies: a unique way for victims of torture to make their voices heard
Freed for jail in march 2018, Michèle still carries the stigmas of the violence suffered.
Appealing to international legal bodies is still, unfortunately, the only way for victims of torture to try to make their voices heard in Burundi in the hope of obtaining justice, truth and reparation for the crimes they have suffered.
TRIAL International accompanies Burundian victims since 2011. To date, TRIAL International has submitted 20 cases to the CAT which were followed by 15 favorable decisions for the victims. For 5 of them, procedures are still on going. Unfortunately, the Burundian government hasn’t implemented these decisions yet and turns a deaf ear to international bodies’ recommendations.
Despite president Ndayishimiy ‘s promises, a profound feeling of impunity still reigns in the country. “It is time for Burundi to pick up on its responsibilities, end the on-going impunity for grave violations of human rights and offer adequate reparations to victims, including Michèle”, says Pamela Capizzi, Head of Pool of Legal Expertise at TRIAL International.