CAT Special Examination of Burundi
Burundi must put an end to ethnic violence and the use of force against protesters, and report in October on its fight against impunity, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded after a special review of the country.
In its Concluding Observations, the Committee called on Burundi to ensure the protection of citizens belonging to the “ethnic minority” by refraining from any public statement that could exacerbate ethnic tensions or incite hate. It called on Burundi to ensure its security forces used non-violent methods to control protests, and to drop any reprisals against dissenting civil society members.
It also urged the State to conduct impartial investigations into any allegations of killings, enforced disappearances and sexual violence at the hand of its security forces and the Imbonerakure militia. Finally, the Committee demanded the investigation of suspected mass grave sites and the exhumation, analysis and identification of any bodies found there.
“The CAT has sent the Government a very strong message that the world is watching,” said Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vice-President of the East Africa Law Society and chairman of the coalition of lawyers of victims of international crimes (CAVIB). “Burundian authorities need to stop disregarding human rights and start collaborating with its civil society and the international experts.”
Reprisals instead of answers
Shortly after the examination, four eminent lawyers were threatened with being disbarred for denouncing rampant abuse before the experts: Vital Nshimirimana, Chair of Forum pour la Conscience et le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC) and President of the campaign “Halte au troisième mandat”, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize and Lambert Nigarura.
The CAT made explicit mention of this episode and urged the authorities to drop this request.
Following up on the clampdown
Following the authorities’ no-show halfway through the session, it also invited the Government to report back by October. Hinting at Burundi’s lack of cooperation, the Committee gave the State two months to follow up and provide it with enough information to assess whether or not it had honored its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, invoking the “interrupted dialogue” and “exceptional and urgent character” of this special review.
These recommendations come as Burundi has been witnessing serious human rights violations since the controversial re-election of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s to a third term in April last year. After a failed coup attempt, a violent crackdown quashed mass protests, prompting the CAT to request that the State submits a special report on how it is fighting torture and ill treatment in the country.
After Israel and Syria, Burundi was the third country the UN torture watchdog has ever asked, pursuant to Article 19, paragraph 1 of the Convention, to submit a special report ahead of the scheduled four years.