Item 10: Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on Burundi
Delivered by Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19
Mr. Vice President,
We agree with the Independent Experts assessment that the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are “virtually non-existent” in Burundi.
Gross violations of these rights make clear that a Commission of Inquiry must be established to ensure thorough investigations, with a view to securing accountability for potential crimes against humanity.
Since the peaceful protests sparked by President Nkurunzinza’s decision to seek a third term, dissent and opposition, whether real or perceived, has been met with ruthless repression. Impunity for these crimes continues to have a severe chilling effect on free expression, and has choked off democratic space
The report provides grim detail on mass extrajudicial executions and murders of the President’s opponents and their sympathizers. Women opponents and sympathizers have been the targets of physical and sexual violence.
Arbitrary arrest and detention of opponents, including members of civil society groups and journalists, has become a hallmark of the repression in Burundi. Torture and inhumane treatment against those detained is reported as commonplace.
ARTICLE 19 remains concerned at the enforced disappearance of freelance journalist Jean Bigirimana, who was arrested by the SNR on 22 June and has not been seen or heard from since. The torture in detention of the Burundi correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Agence France-Presse (AFP), Esdras Ndikumana, following their arrest on 2 August 2015, must be investigated and those responsible held to account.
We are also concerned at outstanding criminal charges against journalists Egide Ndaisenga of Radio Bonesha and Julien Barinzigo, a journalist with Oximity News website.
A restrictive media environment has facilitated this deterioration in respect for freedom of expression. June 2013 reforms to media laws do not comply with Burundi’s regional or international human rights obligations. Government domination of the media sector, including through its ownership of television and radio stations and newspapers, restricts avenues for independent voices. Three of the five radio stations closed in Burundi by the end of 2015 remain closed, and the two others have only been permitted to continue operating under strict conditions.
The report of the Independent Experts makes clear that the situation for civil society actors in Burundi is also dire.
We are concerned by the enforced disappearance of Marie-Claudette Kwizera, Treasurer of the CSO Ligue ITEKA, allegedly arrested on 10 December 2015 by the SNR, and not seen since. On November 23rd, 2015, the Burundian Ministry of Interior issued Decree 530/1597 which ordered the temporary suspension of activities of the top ten Burundian human rights organisations. Several of these associations’ bank accounts, and the accounts of their directors, have been frozen.
As a member of the Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 calls on Burundi to vote in favour of the resolution on the human rights situation in the country, and to cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry once it is established.