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Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful progress

24.08.2020

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.

The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room at Palais des Nations. ©UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Excellencies,

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)

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