The journalist and critic of the government disappeared in July 2016. In the face of his family’s distress and the government’s inaction, TRIAL International has seized the United Nations.
In July 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein spoke about a “strong increase of enforced disappearances” in Burundi, “one of the latest worrying trends” in the country.
The report from the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) paints the same picture. Since the outbreak of the crisis in 2015, hundreds of persons have reportedly disappeared.
The relatives’ suffering
It is within this context that Jean Bigirimana disappeared. He was a journalist at IWACU, one of the main independent Burundian medias and one of the few still active in the country. A father of two children aged eight and three, he was abducted on 22 July 2016 by men aboard a pick-up that apparently belonged to the Burundian National Intelligence Service. Jean Bigirimana has never been seen since.
Nearly nine months have passed and his fate is still unknown, as well as the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. This situation causes serious suffering among his family, friends and colleagues.
“Enforced disappearances are a form of psychological torture for the victim’s relatives. They oscillate between hope and discouragement, without any means to turn the page” explains Pamela Capizzi, Legal Advisor and Head of the Burundi program. “Jean Bigirimana’s relatives have the right to know what has happened to him.“
Insufficient investigation and prevalent impunity
The Burundian authorities have the obligation to undertake an investigation in regards to this disappearance. But this hasn’t been the case. In view of a deficient investigation and the climate of impunity prevailing in Burundi, the path of international justice imposed itself.
In collaboration with the press group IWACU (fr), TRIAL International brought the case to the attention of the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) in August 2016. The purpose of this procedure is to help the family ascertain what has happened to their relative.
“The Burundian justice has the duty to tell the truth to the family, to Iwacu, to the Burundian people. Its honor is at stake“, concludes Antoine Kaburahe (fr), Director of the Groupe de Presse Iwacu. “The truth would put an end to the relatives’ wait and allow them to extricate themselves from this terrible doubt. To this day, our colleague’s children are still waiting for ‘Daddy who went to work’. It’s atrocious.”