The 50th Session of the Human Rights Council
13 June - 8 July 2022
Item 4:Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi
29th June 2022
By Patricia Jjuuko / GICJ
On 29th June 2022, the 26th meeting of the 50th Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an Interactive Dialogue with Mr Fortuné Gaetan Zongo, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi.
The report gave an update on the current human rights situation in Burundi, recognizing the positive trend of the return of the country to the international scene. This includes the lifting of sanctions by the European Union, the US, and others, as well as Presidential pardons of detained people, and the liberation of journalists and civil society groups. The government of Burundi reaffirmed their intent to promote and protect human rights in compliance with the laws and national regulations in place as well as international instruments which they have ratified.
In October 2021, the UN HRC adopted resolution 48/16 “Situation of human rights in Burundi”. This resolution encouraged the government of Burundi to promote and protect the full and effective exercise of fundamental freedoms, media independence, and pluralism, enabling a safe environment for all journalists, bloggers, and other media workers to carry out their work independently, without intimidation or undue interference.
Pursuant to this resolution, a Special Rapporteur was appointed and mandated to monitor the situation of human rights in Burundi. The mandate included making recommendations for the improvement of human rights protection, to collect, examine and assess information from all relevant stakeholders pertaining to human rights in Burundi, building upon the work of the Commission of Inquiry. Additionally, the Special Rapporteur is mandated to advise the Government of Burundi in fulfilling its human rights obligations emanating from international treaties and to offer support and advice to civil society and to the National Independent Human Rights Commission in executing its independent mandate of promoting and protecting human rights.
In compliance with the above, on 29th June 2022, the Special Rapporteur for Burundi, Mr Fortuné Gaetan Zongo, presented an oral update on the human rights situation in Burundi, as it has developed from October 2021.
The Special Rapporteur’s report
In the report, the Special Rapporteur committed his full support to the preparations currently underway by Burundi for its Universal Periodic Review. He asserted that updating the recommendations accepted will provide key avenues for cooperation between different stakeholders in the field. Mr Fortuné Gaetan Zongo further encouraged the integration of human rights into the framework plan for cooperation with the United Nations:
The Special Rapporteur noted with great satisfaction that since the beginning of his mandate, a more positive trend of Burundi’s return to the international scene has been observed with the lifting of sanctions by the European Union, the USA, and others. Notable efforts have been made in the reopening of the country to regional and international actors and the reaccreditation of the National Independent Human Rights Commission as an A-status national human rights institution.
Additionally, Mr Zongo assessed that the President of the Republic of Burundi's pardon of more than 5,000 detained people as well as the recent liberation of journalists and civil society groups showed progress and encouraged continued cooperation between different stakeholders. Despite this significant progress, however, the Special Rapporteur called for additional efforts to fight impunity and to strengthen institutions such as the justice sector, the police, and the army, to protect public freedoms as well as expanding the democratic space through effective participation of civil society and the media.
The report emphasised the human rights situation in Burundi will be analysed holistically, taking into account civil and political rights, economic, social, and cultural rights with particular attention given to women, children, and other vulnerable groups.
The Special Rapporteur urged the international community to bring the highest level of support to Burundi in the area of human rights and called for full cooperation between himself and the authorities in Burundi.
Mr Rénovat Tabu speaking on behalf of the government of Burundi stated that the Interactive Dialogue comes at a time when Burundi has achieved major progress on the international, regional and national levels. He emphasised that the country implemented governmental reforms under the presidency of Évariste Ndayishimiye. Mr Tabu highlighted Burundi’s progress in relation to governance, social justice, freedom of expression, and press as well as the promotion of social and economic rights, civil and political rights, the promotion of human rights, and progress in areas pertaining to national reconciliation.
The country’s representative stated Burundi is aware of the crucial role of the Human Rights Council in reinforcing, promoting, and protecting human rights across the world but would not accept any political attempts to interfere in domestic affairs of their sovereign State. He further reiterated Burundi’s commitment to the protection of human rights through cooperation, dialogue, technical assistance, and capacity-building. Mr Tabu stressed that the government of Burundi with the international community and the HRC must work in collaboration with the spirit of universality, transparency, impartiality, non-selectivity, and objectivity.
In the ensuing Interactive Dialogue, the European Union expressed concern about the fragile situation of human rights in particular the allegations of acts of torture by agents of the state and rebel groups. The European Union emphasised that they will remain independent and impartial when addressing the state of the human rights situation in Burundi. They called on the government to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur in allowing his official visit to the country to closely follow the human rights situation in the country.
Subsequently, Norway, on behalf of the northern Baltic countries, highlighted the importance of independent information collected by the Special Rapporteur on the development of the human rights situation in the country. They further reiterated that human rights violations and abuses including sexual and gender-based violence must be effectively investigated and perpetrators held to account. Additionally, they urged the government of Burundi to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and give the Special Rapporteur full and unhindered access to the country and provide all necessary information to fulfil his mandate.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in their statement noted that although there have been some positive developments in Burundi since the last report of the Commission of Inquiry, they remain concerned by the overall human rights picture in Burundi, particularly the targeting of political opposition figures, and call on the Government to make further progress. Additionally, they welcomed the views of the Special Rapporteur on how the international community can help the Government of Burundi to promote and protect the rights and freedoms of its people.
Egypt welcomed the efforts by Burundi to achieve peace and stability and promote reconciliation and improve human rights. In spite of the challenges, however, they reiterated their position against the adoption of human rights mechanisms without the consent of the country concerned. Egypt stated it is not a constructive approach and politicisation must be avoided. They further underscored the important role of the HRC in supporting States’ efforts to promote national human rights institutions and encouraged constructive dialogue with concerned bodies.
Eritrea encouraged the Human Rights Council to devise ways to create mechanisms of genuine, objective, and constructive engagement based on the concerns of the State and mutual respect. Additionally, engagement with the government of Burundi should duly consider and respect its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.
The United States of America called on the Government of Burundi to grant access to special procedure mandate holders, including the Special Rapporteur, in line with its public commitments to advance human rights and re-engage the international community. They further asked the Rapporteur how he is proceeding with the Government of Burundi to establish trust and encourage greater cooperation to better implement human rights mechanisms.
NGO representatives deplored the human rights situation in Burundi, particularly the alarming situation of human rights defenders. Human rights defenders continue to be arrested and imprisoned as was the case of lawyer Tony Germain Nkina who was arrested in October 2020 and sentenced to five years imprisonment. NGO representatives further called on the government of Burundi to cooperate with the UN mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council and to resume its cooperation with the OHCHR starting with accepting an official visit of the Special Rapporteur on Burundi to the country.
Following interventions by delegates, interested states, and civil society entities, the Special Rapporteur made his closing remarks. He emphasised the need to take into account not only past events which affect the full enjoyment of human rights in Burundi but also to look at the future with an aim of preventing the emergence of new violations. Mr. Zongo highlighted his role to establish satisfactory cooperation with Burundi which will enable the beginning of discussions to understand the challenges faced by Burundians. The Special Rapporteur further stated that risk factors and their management, as well as the ratification of certain conventions by Burundi could not be achieved without constructive dialogue. He reiterated the importance of considering Burundi’s perspective and called on the government to cooperate to achieve better protection and promotion of human rights in the country.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the oral update of the Special Rapporteur concerning the human rights situation in Burundi. We remain deeply concerned with the human rights situation especially the killings, disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention and sexual and gender-based violence that continue to be documented. The alleged reported violations demand an exhaustive revision of compliance with human rights law and international standards.
We urge the government of Burundi to cooperate fully with the UN mechanisms and allow the Special Rapporteur into the country on an official visit. GICJ further encourages Burundi to continue increasing its efforts in recognizing and investigating all human rights violations committed and holding perpetrators accountable. It is in doing this that Burundi will move towards peace, stability, and development.
HRC50, Special Rapporteur, Burundi, Interactive Dialogue, Human Rights Council, Justice, Human Rights, Geneva, Geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice