Burundi: Respect human rights and cooperate with Council or face membership repercussions

23.03.2016

Burundi's failure to uphold high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights or to cooperate fully with the UN Human Rights Council, of which it is a member, should precipitate discussion in the Council and the General Assembly about its eligibility for membership.

(Geneva) – Burundi's failure to uphold high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights or to cooperate fully with the UN Human Rights Council, of which it is a member, should precipitate discussion in the Council and the General Assembly about its eligibility for membership, ISHR said today.

As a member of the Human Rights Council, Burundi is required by UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperate fully with Council-mandated experts investigating human rights violations in the country. A ‘failure to adhere to such basic standards should precipitate public discussion in this Council as to the State’s fitness and eligibility for membership, with the possibility of referral of the State concerned to the General Assembly for suspension or expulsion from this Council if the necessary undertakings are not given and fulfilled’, ISHR said in a statement at the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council during a dedicated debate on Burundi. 

‘Civil society organisations operate in a limited space, enveloped by violence, torture and intimidation. At least ten non-governmental organizations have been forced to close and suspend their work in Burundi,’ explained Mr Ivan Simonovic, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights during the interactive dialogue.

'It is deeply disconcerting that some members of society, in particular human rights defenders were subject to reprisals,’ said Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions and a member of the Council-mandated panel of experts on Burundi. He urged the government to therefore enhance the space of civil society and to immediately investigate reports and cases of reprisals.

Mr Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights defenders and the President of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Incarcerated Persons (APRODH) was on the panel of speakers during the interactive dialogue on Burundi.

‘The situation in Burundi is so grave it can be likened to a genocide. My life was attacked, and this is precisely the challenge - that innocent people are assassinated and killed and perpetrators are not being brought to book,’ he explained.

Mr Mbonimpa pleaded with the Member States at the Council to take practical steps to help citizens and defenders who have been affected by the human rights situation in Burundi.

The Government of Burundi by contrast, represented by H.E. Mr. Martin Nivyabandi, Minister of Human Rights, Social Affairs, and Gender, said that 'Light is returning after a period of darkness in 2015. The situation is getting back to normal in terms of social, economic and political aspects in Burundi. The security situation is also improving as disarmament of civilians is on-going, although some challenges remain.'

Despite this, several states, including France, Albania, Ireland and Switzerland, concurred and sympathised with Mr Mbonimpa, welcoming his statement and calling for the Burundian government to uphold the rule of law. The also urged Burundi to implement recommenddations made by the UN Special Rapporteur for on Human Rights Defenders to fully investigate any harassment and intimidation of defenderss and ensure that independent media outlets can operate freely.

‘It is important to hear the voice of civil society in this room, because we are concerned about the restrictions put on the media and the various attacks and harassment faced by human rights defenders,’ said the representative of France.

‘Switzerland deplores all acts of violence against human rights defenders and civil society and those who voice diverging opinions in Burundi,’ said the Swiss delegate. ‘Only inclusive dialogue including all concerned parties, coming together in a sincere manner will bring peace back to Burundi,’ he added.

‘Human rights defenders are paying a high price in this ever-worsening situation, where Burundian citizens and defenders are paralysed by fear. Restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, together with targeted killings and forced exile, affect them very directly,’ said Ms Rumbidzai Masango ISHR’s African Human Rights Consultant and Ambassador Bari Bari Fellow.

Noting with concern the arrests of civil society, the Albanian delegate called on attacks against defenders to be condemned publically and reminded the government to Burundi that as a member of the Council it must uphold and promote human rights in it’s country.

A video of the ISHR statement is here.

The full text of ISHR's statement to the Human Rights Council is here.

Contact: Mr Clement Voule, ISHR Africa Advocacy Director on c.voule@ishr.ch

Category:

Region
  • Africa
Topic
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • UN Human Rights Council
Country
  • Burundi