Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful progress
In partnership with over 40 Burundian and international NGOs, TRIAL International co-signed a letter to the Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, asking for a renewal of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
Ahead of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (hereafter “HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned civil society organisations, write to urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi. In the context of recent political developments, such a renewal, building off the investments to date in and from the CoI, would provide the best opportunity to prompt meaningful human rights progress in Burundi.
As of today, the CoI remains the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights violations and abuses (including on their extent and whether they may constitute crimes under international law), monitor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. Changing political realities do not amount to systemic human rights change, and the Council has a responsibility to continue supporting victims and survivors of violations and working to improve the situation in Burundi. (…)
The work conducted by the CoI, which is due to present its written report to the Council at its upcoming 45th session (14 September-6 October 2020), continues to provide critical oversight of the human rights situation in Burundi. The country’s crisis was triggered by former President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement, in April 2015, that he would run for a third term in office. (…)
To date, no high-level officials have been held accountable. Several hundred prisoners who have served their term or whose release has been ordered continue to be arbitrarily detained. This situation is ongoing despite opinions rendered by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (WGAD), which examined some of these prisoners’ cases. Victims and survivors of sexual violence have been denied access to a specialised framework for medical and psychological treatment and full rehabilitation. (…)
Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the passing of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern.
Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiye during his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system.
We would welcome meaningful and concrete improvements in the human rights situation in Burundi, and we believe that the best chance to achieve such meaningful change is through the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, as well as the Burundian authorities reinitiating dialogue with the CoI, OHCHR, and other UN and AU human rights bodies and mechanisms. (…)
At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. (…) The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation.
We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.
(The 43 signatory NGOs are listed in the full letter attached herewith)