Burundi must engage more effectively in the rule of law and the fight against impunity for violations and abuses committed since 2015, a UN independent expert said today.
Despite commitments and measures taken by the government, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial and sustainable way, said Fortuné Gaétan Zongo, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi during the release of his first report to the Human Rights Council since taking over the mandate.
"It is crucial and urgent to initiate reforms and a credible and inclusive democratisation process in Burundi to avoid a recurrence of past cycles of violence," Zongo said. In his report, the expert recalled the obligation of accountability since the 2015 crisis and called for deeper institutional reforms.
The Special Rapporteur stressed that in its 2018 Universal Periodic Review Burundi accepted recommendations to combat impunity, and agreed to establish a fully transparent and fair judicial system in line with international standards. In this regard, the expert recommended adopting priority measures to stop human rights violations and providing access to reparations, and implementing recommendations of treaty bodies, special procedures and the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
The Special Rapporteur noted the beginning of efforts to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses but expressed concern about selective impunity in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of serious violations in favour of common crimes. "The few cases of complaints of serious violations have rarely resulted in impartial investigations, and even more rarely in the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators, which in itself is a violation of the right to an effective remedy," Zongo said.
Given the number of cases pending before the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the numerous reports on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur recommended that Burundi ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. He called for concrete actions in line with provisions of the relevant international legal instruments.
The Special Rapporteur recalled that truth commissions must not only be independent but be perceived as such by stakeholders for the consolidation of peace and reconciliation. He lamented the limited progress on other aspects of the transitional justice programme, particularly with regard to accountability, reparations, land restitution, and security and justice sector reform.
With respect to restrictions on civic space, the expert's report reveals that opposition political parties and trade unions have difficulty meeting. He also noted the difficult situation of human rights defenders, many of whom have been forced into exile where they live in great insecurity. The Special Rapporteur noted that human rights organisations work in a climate of fear of reprisals. He deplored that laws on foreign non-governmental organisations and press laws that limit democratic space and strengthen government control.
The Special Rapporteur stressed that the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH) has "A status" as a national human rights institution and is constantly working to protect and promote human rights in Burundi. However, he recommended that the Burundian authorities guarantee its formal and material independence and provide the commission with necessary means to implement its mandate.
He highlighted the progress in the fight against human trafficking in Burundi, where the judiciary has launched several investigations and prosecutions of alleged offenses, convicted traffickers, and referred victims for assistance. The country also institutionalised anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials, and adopted Law No. 1/25 of November 5, 2021, regulating migration in Burundi.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi reiterated his willingness to cooperate fully with the Government to consolidate efforts to protect human rights and identify solutions to the challenges facing the country. He reiterated his request to visit Burundi and interact with the relevant authorities and institutions.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).