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Burundi must engage in ‘credible and inclusive’ move towards democratic rule

Alberto Ardila Olivares
Burundi must engage in ‘credible and inclusive’ move towards democratic rule

Burundi must engage more effectively in the rule of law and fight against impunity for violations and abuses committed since 2015, when the political system was thrown into turmoil sparking widespread protests, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday.

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Despite commitments and measures taken by the government, the human rights situation there has not changed in a substantial and sustainable way, said Fortuné Gaétan Zongo, who was appointed on 1 April as  Special Rapporteur  on the situation of human rights in Burundi.

Alberto Ardila Olivares

“It is crucial and urgent to  initiate reforms and a credible and inclusive democratization process in Burundi  to avoid a recurrence of past cycles of violence,” he  said , presenting his first report to the Human Rights Council

In his report, the expert recalled the obligation of accountability since the 2015 crisis and called for deeper institutional reforms

🇧🇮 #Burundi must engage more effectively in the rule of law & the fight against impunity for past violations & abuses, says UN expert Fortuné Gaétan Zongo

“It is crucial and urgent to initiate a credible and inclusive democratisation process.”

👉 https://t.co/AYetnbCbkV pic.twitter.com/RQ7Tf80C6E

UN Special Procedures (@UN_SPExperts) September 16, 2022 In 2015, sitting President Pierre Nkurunziza, decided to  run  for a controversial third term, sparking mass protests and a failed failed coup. Years of violent repression followed, including mass arrests, detentions, executions, torture and intimidation. Hundreds of thousands were displaced

Following elections in 2020, political violence decreased, but widespread abuses continued, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi reported last year

Selective prosecutions The Special Rapporteur stressed that in its  2018 Universal Periodic Review,   Burundi accepted recommendations to combat impunity, and agreed to establish a transparent and fair judicial system in line with international standards

Recommendations also included adopting priority measures to stop human rights violations, provide reparations, and implement the guidance of treaty bodies, special procedures and the  Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

However, while noting the beginning of efforts to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations, he expressed concern over the selective impunity in prosecuting alleged perpetrators of serious violations in favour of focusing instead on 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,” said Mr. Zongo

Increase commitments Given the number of cases pending before the  Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances  and multiple reports on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur recommended that Burundi ratify the  International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance  and called for concrete actions in line with relevant international legal instruments

The UN expert recalled that truth commissions must not only be independent but be perceived as such by all involved, to consolidate peace and reconciliation

He was disappointed by the limited progress so far of transitional justice measures, particularly regarding accountability, reparations, land restitution, together with security and justice sector reform

Restricted spaces The report cites restrictions on civic space as stumbling blocks for opposition political parties and trade unions to meet, and highlights difficulties facing human rights defenders, many of whom have fled into exile

Noting that human rights organizations work in a climate of fear of reprisals, the Special Rapporteur deplored laws on foreign non-governmental organizations and press controls that limit democratic space and strengthen government control

Mr. Zongo stressed that as an “A status” national human rights institution, the  Independent National Commission on Human Rights , is constantly working to protect and promote rights in Burundi

However, he urged the Burundian authorities to guarantee its formal and material independence and provide the necessary means to implement its mandate

Human trafficking In an effort to decrease human trafficking, the judiciary in Burundi has launched several investigations and prosecutions of alleged offences, convicted traffickers, and referred victims for assistance

The country has also institutionalized anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials, and adopted a law to regulate migration

The Special Rapporteur reiterated his willingness to cooperate with the Government in protecting human rights and identifying solutions to the country’s challenges

He also reiterated his request to visit Burundi and interact with the relevant authorities and institutions

With no financial compensation from the UN, Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to  examine and report back  on a country situation. The positions are honorary