Despite government commitments and measures, the human rights situation there has not fundamentally and lastingly changed, said Fortuné Gaétan Zongo, who was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burundi on 1 April.
“It is crucial and urgent to initiating reforms and a credible and inclusive democratization process in Burundi to avoid a repeat of previous cycles of violence,” he said, handing over his first report to the Human Rights Council.
In his report, the expert recalled accountability since the 2015 crisis and called for deeper institutional reforms.
In 2015, incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza decided to run for a controversial third term, sparking mass protests and a botched coup d’état. Years of violent repression followed, including mass arrests, detentions, executions, torture and intimidation. Hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Political violence abated after the 2020 elections, but widespread abuses continued, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi reported last year.
The Special Rapporteur stressed that in its 2018 Universal Periodic Review Burundi accepted recommendations to fight impunity and agreed to establish a transparent and fair justice system in line with international standards.
Recommendations also include adopting priority measures to end human rights violations, provide reparations and conduct guidance to treaty bodies, special procedures and the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
However, it noted the beginning of efforts to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations, but expressed concern about selective impunity in prosecuting alleged perpetrators of serious violations, rather than focusing on common crimes.
“The few cases of complaints of serious violations have rarely led to impartial investigationand even rarer in the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators, which in itself is a violation of the right to an effective remedy,” said Mr. zongo.
Given the number of cases pending in the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and multiple reports on enforced disappearances, the Special Rapporteur recommended Burundi to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and called for concrete actions in accordance with the relevant international legal instruments.
The UN expert recalled that truth commissions should not only be independent, but should also be seen as such by all concerned, in order to consolidate peace and reconciliation.
He was disappointed with the limited progress made so far in transitional measures in the area of justice, in particular on accountability, reparations, land restitution, along with security and justice sector reform.
The report cites restrictions on public space as stumbling blocks for opposition parties and trade unions to meet, and highlights the difficulties faced by human rights defenders, many of whom have fled exile.
The Special Rapporteur noted that human rights organizations operate in a climate of fear of reprisals and deplored laws on foreign non-governmental organizations and press controls that limit democratic space and strengthen government control.
mr. Zongo emphasized that the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, as an “A-status” national human rights institution, is constantly working to protect and promote rights in Burundi.
However, he urged the Burundian authorities to guarantee its formal and material independence and to provide the necessary resources to carry out its mandate.
In an effort to curb human trafficking, the judiciary in Burundi has launched several investigations and prosecutions of alleged criminal offences, convicted traffickers and referred victims for help.
The country has also institutionalized anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officers and passed a law to regulate migration.
The Special Rapporteur reiterated his willingness to work with the government to protect human rights and find solutions to the country’s challenges.
He also reiterated his request to visit Burundi and be in contact with the relevant authorities and institutions.
Without financial compensation from the UN, special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to investigate and report on the situation in a country. The positions are honorable.