Burundi: UN experts urge Security Council to follow resolution with ‘concrete' steps to stop rights abuses

Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, has been rocked by political violence for months. Photo: Phil Moore/IRIN

13 November 2015 – Welcoming the adoption by the Security Council of a new resolution yesterday strongly condemning the ongoing killings and human rights violations in Burundi, a group of UN independent experts has expressed outrage at the situation and warned that the central African “is going towards an unacceptable path of atrocities.”

The experts welcomed the “clear message and alert” sent by the Council’s unanimously adopted resolution, which condemned the increased cases of human rights violations and abuses in Burundi, the seven UN Special Rapporteurs emphasized that actions must now be undertaken to follow up the text and provide “concrete responses fitting the magnitude of the risks at stake, for Burundi and the region.”

The experts went on to recount a raft of ills, saying the situation in Burundi continues to deteriorate with daily reports of serious human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, attacks on independent media and harassment and killing of human rights defenders, unjustified limitations on freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, adding to more than 200,000 persons displaced by violence.

“This is a crisis that is eminently political in nature and entails an increased risk of escalation of violence and further fracturing of the Burundian society,” the experts warned and urged the Security Council to adopt immediate measures if the security situation deteriorates further, and prevent additional loss of life.

They also urged the Burundian authorities to take immediate steps “to put an end to the rampant human rights violations and ensure there is no impunity for the perpetrators.”

The experts recalled that in the last two months, reports received suggested that people arrested by the security forces have been found dead, many with signs of torture, in several locations of the capital, Bujumbura, stressing that nothing under international law can justify these “unacceptable” violations.

Last week, Welli Nzitonda, the son of a prominent human rights defender was found dead after being arrested by the police earlier in the day.

“The brutal killing of Mr. Nzitonda shows that, in spite of constant demands, nothing has been done to protect human rights defenders in Burundi,” said the Special Rapporteurs. “If a well-known and reputed [rights] defender is attacked in such a way, we fear the worst for those defenders who are more isolated and less visible,” they stressed.

The Special Rapporteurs warned that the situation in Burundi dangerously worsened in the recent weeks and observed that security forces continue to disrespect the human rights of Burundians, amid a general climate of impunity.

“Horrendous manoeuvres or strategies that seek stifle a plurality of views in civil society, send a chilling message to those trying to assemble peacefully and associate freely and only add to the insecurity in the country,” the independent experts said adding that the members of the security forces and supporters of the ruling party have also been attacked and killed by unidentified armed men.

“We call for political solutions and mobilize all means and instruments available to prevent a further deterioration of the situation, including through political dialogue and ensuring accountability for the violations committed,” the experts said urging the authorities to dissociate themselves from divisive and inflammatory speeches.

Further, the independent experts called on the UN to provide all the resources necessary for the High Commission for Human Rights, the African Union and the African Commission of Human Rights to effectively operate in the country, in particular monitoring and report on the human rights situation, and supporting prevention efforts as a matter of priority.

“In this context, we take note of the commitment of the Burundi Government to fully cooperate with the UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and call, in particular, for a visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions to the country – whose request has been left without answer by the Government,” they concluded.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

The experts participating in this call are: the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff.

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