The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2018/250) issued on 29 March 2019.
The risk of sexual violence, exacerbated by the 2015 political crisis, remains a concern. In its latest report, the International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi refers to accounts of sexual violence, in particular rape and gang rape against women and girls for purposes such as intimidation or punishment, associated with perceived political affiliation. Such incidents often occur with the acquiescence of state agents. The Commission also reported sexual violence against men, including genital torture, S/2019/280 19-04552 25/35 as well as forced nudity and other acts of humiliation during interrogation. The Commission attributes the increased risk of sexual violence after the 2015 crisis to high levels of violence and impunity, as well as the persistence of poverty and gender-based discrimination, more generally. In addition, challenges remain regarding the provision of medical and psychosocial services for survivors. The situation is aggravated by the Government’s suspension of international non-governmental organizations’ activities, since 1 October 2018. The Government’s decision, in December 2018, to close the country office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will also have a negative impact on survivors’ human rights and their access to essential services.
Internally displaced and returnee women and girls remain highly vulnerable, in particular on palm oil plantations or when searching for firewood or water. Reports indicate that 43 per cent of internally displaced persons fear reporting abuse, partly owing to mistrust of the authorities. In addition, article 25 of Law No. 1/13 of September 2016 is interpreted as requiring service providers to report rape incidents to the police, even against the wishes of survivors, who fear for their safety. On International Women’s Day in 2018, the President of Burundi announced zero tolerance for sexual and gender-based violence, regardless of the rank or status of perpetrators.
Women and girls who had fled to neighbouring countries as a result of insecurity and conflict were also documented as having been victims of sexual violence. Some degree of support services exists to meet their needs in refugee settlements. However, asylum seekers and others with irregular status are often unable to gain access to comprehensive medical and psychosocial support.
I call upon Burundi’s authorities to strengthen their response to sexual violence by facilitating access to justice, strengthening protection systems, ensuring the provision of medical and psychological care to survivors, including displaced persons and returnees, and establishing a safe and ethical information system on sexual and gender-based violence. I urge the Government to cooperate with the United Nations system, and in particular with all relevant United Nations human rights mechanisms. I encourage the Government to undertake a prompt and independent investigation of the allegations of sexual violence contained in the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and to take appropriate action to ensure accountability.