To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland
The renewal of the CoI’s mandate is critically important to improve the human rights situation in Burundi, and it offers the Council a number of practical and effective advantages. Among other things, it would allow the Council to:
At the Council’s 36th session (September 2017), the CoI informed the HRC that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Burundi since 2015,” and that some of the violations may constitute “crimes against humanity.” At the 37th and 38th sessions of the Council (March and June-July 2018), the CoI described a political, security, economic, social and human rights situation that has not improved since September 2016. In March 2018, the Commission’s Chairperson, Mr. Doudou Diène, stressed that the situation in the country continued to deserve the Council’s “utmost attention.” In October 2017, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015. A preliminary examination of the situation had been opened in April 2016.
The constitutional referendum that was held on 17 May 2018 was marred with violence and repression, with arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation of citizens campaigning for a “no” vote. The BBC and VOA, two of the country’s main international radio stations, have been suspended for 6 months at the start of the official campaign, illustrating the climate of fear in which journalists and medias were prevented from a proper coverage of the event. In the Commission’s words, as of June 2018 “human rights violations, among which extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment […], facilitated by a continuing environment of threats and intimidation,” continue unabated. The CoI added: “The fact that several missing people have not been found and that unidentified bodies continue to be discovered in various parts of the country gives reason to fear the continuation of practices consisting of getting rid of the bodies of people arrested sometimes by individuals in police uniform or identified as agents of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) or the Imbonerakure.”
Since it became a member of the Council, on 1st January 2016, Burundi has delivered multiple statements that have made clear its refusal to cooperate with human rights monitoring and investigation bodies and mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly launched attacks, which have sometimes descended to a personal level, against the High Commissioner, UN officials, and independent experts. With no basis or evidence, it has publicly questioned the independence, competence, professionalism, integrity and legitimacy of High Commissioner Zeid and his Office, and has threatened, stigmatised, and exercised reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organisations. Burundians who have sought protection outside of Burundi have been subjected to harassment and persecution, including by members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure.
Members of the CoI continue to be denied access to Burundi. Furthermore, at the time of writing, the Burundian authorities have withdrawn visas from the team of experts mandated by HRC resolution 36/2, despite the fact that the latter was adopted at Burundi’s own initiative, with its support and the support of members of Burundi’s own regional group. Burundi’s action in this regard clearly violates its Council membership obligations.
Recalling the letter a group of civil society organisations wrote in September 2017, we urge the Council, consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, to pave the way for accountability by renewing the mandate of the CoI to enable it to continue monitoring human rights developments in the country, documenting violations and abuses, and publicly reporting on the situation.
We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.