Burundi needs more than a new President to break the cycle of violence, say UN investigators
Geneva (14 July 2020) – After a campaign period marked by numerous cases of arbitrary detention and even some executions of members of Burundi’s main opposition party CNL (National Freedom Council), as well as numerous violations of public freedoms, Burundi is now at a cross- roads. As a result of the presidential, legislative and communal elections, held on 20 May, the CNDD-FDD (National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy) remains the ruling party. The main change from the past is the central figure, Evariste Ndayishimiye, the new President and former general.
“While no massive violence was recorded, the electoral process has been characterized by political intolerance and multiple violations of human rights, before and during the official election campaign, on polling day and after the announcement of the official election results”, summarized Doudou Diene, Chairperson of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (COIB) today (14 July) at the oral presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Commissioners took note that in his inauguration speech on 18 June, new President Ndayishimiye stressed the need to improve the human rights situation and the fight against impunity in the country, as well as to work on political reconciliation and the return of all the Burundian refugees. However, they also emphasized that the policies of the new President will be implemented by a government composed essentially of caciques of the regime of the late President Nkurunziza, including some who are under sanctions for their involvement in serious human rights violations.
It should be recalled that since 2015, security forces and members of the ruling party’s CNDD-FDD youth league, known as the Imbonerakure, have been carrying out extrajudicial killings, arresting people arbitrarily, and raping, threatening, and harassing those whom they perceived to be political opponents, with a quasi-total impunity.
The COIB called on the new President of the Republic to demonstrate his will for change by fully cooperating with international human rights mechanisms, including the COIB, or by reopening the UN Office for Human Rights in Burundi. The immediate release of the four Iwacu journalists and human rights defenders such as Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga would also be significant gestures.
The Commission welcomed the fact that, following Nkurunziza’s sudden death on 8 June 2020, the new Burundian President decided to address in earnest the Covid-19 pandemic after months of denial.
However, the Commissioners warned the international community against prematurely settling and turning the page, “as if … an election and a political transition are sufficient to automatically guarantee the improvement of the human rights situation going forward”. The governance system put in place to benefit the CNDD-FDD party remains in place and many risk factors are still present. “This transition could become an opportunity for improvement if the government takes concrete measures to address them. The international community must remain vigilant and mobilized to encourage action that addresses the root causes of human rights violations”, stressed Doudou Diène.
Presently, the COIB is the sole international mechanism conducting in-depth investigations into serious human rights violations in Burundi. Although the Government has never granted the investigators access to the country, they have obtained information from a variety of sources, both in country and outside. The Commission is due to present its final report to the Council in September 2020.
Media contact : (Geneva) Sandra Miller, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Commission of Inquiry on Burundi + 41 22 917 3426 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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