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UN asks Burundi to protect ethnic minorities from violence; stop reprisals on civil society

Geneva, 12 August2016 – Burundi must stop fueling ethnic violence and usingforce against protesters, and report back by October on what it is doing to fightimpunity, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded after aspecial review requested in light of reports of politically or ethnicallymotivated torture in the country.

In its Concluding Observations, the Committeecalled on Burundi to ensure the protection of citizens belonging to the “ethnicminority” by refraining from any public statement that could exacerbate ethnictensions or incite hate. It called on Burundi to ensure its security forcesused non-violent methods to control protests, and to drop any reprisals againstdissenting civil society members.

It also urged the State to conduct impartialinvestigations into any allegations of killings, enforced disappearances andsexual violence at the hand of its security forces and the Imbonerakure militia. The Committee also demanded the investigationof suspected mass grave sites and the exhumation, analysis and identificationof any bodies found there.

“The CAT has sent the Government a very strong messagethat the world is watching,” said Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vice-President ofthe East Africa Law Society and chairman of the coalition of lawyers ofvictims of international crimes (CAVIB). “Burundianauthorities need to stop disregarding human rights and start collaborating withits civil society and the international experts.”

Following the authorities’ no-show halfway through thesession, it also invited the Government to report back by October. In what isonly a hardly veiled hint at Burundi’s lack of cooperation, the Committee gavethe State two months to follow up by 12 October to respond and provide it withenough information to assess whether or not it had honored its obligationsunder the Convention Against Torture, invoking the “interrupted dialogue” and “exceptionaland urgent character” of this special review.

These recommendations come as Burundi has beenwitnessing serious human rights violations since the controversial re-electionof President Pierre Nkurunziza’s to a third term in April last year. After afailed coup attempt, a violent crackdown quashed mass protests, prompting theCAT to request that the State submits a special report on how it is fightingtorture and ill treatment in the country.

After Israel and Syria, Burundi was the third countrythe UN torture watchdog has ever asked, pursuant to Article 19, paragraph 1 ofthe Convention, to submit a special report ahead of the scheduled four years. TheCommittee experts on July 28 started examining the situation in Burundi, based oninformation from the State’s own Special Report as well as on other publiclyavailable documents, including a so-called “alternative” report submitted bynational and international non-governmental organizations. At the initial July28 session, the Burundian government delegation, led by Justice Minister AiméeLaurentine Kanyana, dismissed as exaggerated any torture allegations.

Historical no show

Then on 29 July, in an unprecedented move by any Stateparty to the Convention, the Burundian delegation did not show up to provideits replies to the questions posed by the CAT after this preliminaryexamination. It instead sent the CAT a letter, sayingit was “surprised” the session had focused on examining civil-society reports.The CAT then provided the State of Burundi a standard additional 48 hours inresponse to its request to have more time to investigate the allegations of thereport. But at the time of writing no further information has been received.

A coalition of Burundian and internationalorganizations had submitted a report denouncing thecurrent Government’s use of arbitrary detention to repress the opposition,stating that SOS-Torture Burundi had counted 736 arbitrary arrests betweenDecember 2015 and 31 March 2016, while the OHCHR office in Burundi had counted3,477 arbitrary arrests in the year to end of April 2016. It also saidthat since the President’s third term, it had counted more and more cases of enforceddisappearances among members of civil society, former Burundi Armed Forcespersonnel or young demonstrators from neighborhoods of mainly Tutsiethnicity.

Reprisals instead ofanswers

Among its 12 dense pages of recommendations, theCommittee urged Burundi to drop its request to disbar four lawyers and humanrights defenders who had contributed to the coalition’s report – which it alsoconfirmed as a form of reprisals in a letter to the Governmenttoday – and urgently provide informationon the measures taken to that effect.

These lawyers were namely Vital Nshimirimana, Chair ofForum pour la Conscience et le Renforcement de la Société Civile (FORSC) andPresident of the campaign “Halte au troisième mandat”, Armel Niyongere, Presidentof ACAT-Burundi and Coordinator of SOS Torture campaign that provides regularmonitoring reports about human rights abuses and torture cases, Mr. Bashirahishize,who belongs to the organization that requested the International Criminal Courtto conduct investigations on crimes committed in Burundi, and Lambert Nigarura,Prsident of the Burundian Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Thiscomes after a 29 July letter from the BurundianGovernment to the President of the Burundi Bar Association.

On 30 July, the UN Security Council announced it woulddeploy a UN police force of up to 228 officers to Burundi to help preventfurther violence in the country. The Government of Burundi had earlier said itwould not accept more than 50. The country witnessed in 1972 mass killings ofHutus by the Tutsi-dominated army, and in 1993, mass killings of Tutsis by themajority-Hutu population. President Pierre Nkurunziza is the former leader of aHutu rebel group.

The organizations of the NGO coalition who contributedto the above-mentioned alternative report are: Action des Chrétiens pourl’Abolition de la Torture au Burundi (ACAT Burundi), Association Burundaisepour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH),campagne SOS-Torture / Burundi, Collectif des Avocats des Victimes de Crimes deDroit International (CAVIB), Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour PénaleInternationale (CB-CPI), le Forum de la Société civile pour le Monitoring desElections (COSOME), Collectif pour la Promotion des Associations des Jeunes(CPAJ), Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE), (FORSC), LigueBurundaise des Droits de l’Homme (Ligue ITEKA) and Réseau des CitoyensProbes.

They received support from OMCT, Centre pour lesdroits civils et politiques (CCPR), Fédération internationale de l’Action deschrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture (FIACAT), TRIAL International, andDefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project).

The report by the Burundian Government can be foundhere: .

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