Burundi: Senior United Nations Human Rights Official Says Human Rights Progress Has Been Made but Challenges Remain

3 May 2012
BUJUMBURA/ NEW YORK – Burundi is making progress on human rights, but challenges remain in addressing impunity. The other real test will be the establishment of an effective, independent and credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, said on 2 May.
At the conclusion of a three-day visit to the country, from 30 April to 2 May, Mr. Šimonović said the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hear cases of past abuses is a vital step for reconciliation and cementing the rule of law.
“A credible and independent Commission that meets international standards and ensures broad participation and ownership by all segments of the society, with commissioners selected in an open and transparent manner, will help to build people’s trust in mechanisms of transitional justice," he said.
“I welcome the Government’s commitment to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission before the end of this year and I wish to restate the UN’s engagement in this regard. The UN looks forward to analysing the revised draft law on the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he added.
Mr. Šimonović underlined the importance of establishing a Special Tribunal and adopting a victim-centered approach, with attention to the needs of women, children and other vulnerable groups.
During his visit, he met with the First Vice President, Mr. Thérence Sinunguruza, ministers and officials in charge of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Public Security and Interior, as well as with the Chair of the Independent National Human Rights Commission, members of the diplomatic community and representatives of civil society.
Mr. Šimonović commended the Government on the establishment of the Independent National Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombusdman, and the adoption of the National Strategy for Good Governance.
He encouraged the Government to implement the recommendations made by the various United Nations human rights mechanisms, and called on the Government to ensure that men and women benefit from equal rights in the area of inheritance.
While 2012 has so far witnessed a relative decrease in the number of extra-judicial killings, Mr. Šimonović called for greater efforts to guarantee the right to life for all in Burundi and to hold to account perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and detention.
He pointed that in 2011, the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) documented 61 cases of extrajudicial killings. In only 8 of these cases have the perpetrators been tried and convicted. He also expressed concerns that the findings of the commissions of inquiry set up by the Government to investigate serious crimes committed in 2011 have not yet contributed to establishing the truth and bringing alleged perpetrators to justice.
“By dealing firmly with recent human rights violations and ensuring a proper framework for the protection of victims and witnesses, the Government will send a strong signal of its commitment to fight impunity and to create an environment conducive to addressing past abuses” said Mr. Šimonović.
Mr. Šimonović welcomed ongoing efforts to address challenges faced by the justice system as well as the upcoming Stakeholders’ Conference on the Justice sector. He hoped it would address issues such as overcrowding of prisons, lengthy judicial proceedings, conditions of detention and pre-trial detention. He renewed the UN’s commitment to continue to support the Government and the people of Burundi in their efforts to strengthen the rule of law based on an independent and impartial judicial system.
Mr. Šimonović emphasized the vital role of a dynamic and autonomous civil society in fostering democracy, describing it as a key bridge between a government and its people. He called on the Government to create the necessary space for civil society organizations and Burundian people to fully enjoy their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful demonstration.