For two years, the Independent Expert on Human Rights in Burundi has been prevented from reporting before the Human Rights Council, based on a narrow reading of Resolution 9/19 (2008) in contradiction with the practice of mandate holders presenting their reports or missions reports before the Council on an annual basis. The resolution, which welcomes Burundi's intention to establish a National Independent Human Rights Commission and "invites the independent expert to report ... at the session following the establishment of the above-mentioned commission," was drafted following Burundi's promise to rapidly establish a national human rights commission. In December 2008, Immaculée Nahayo, Minister of National Solidarity and Reconstruction, assured the Council that the commission would be "functional by January 2009."
While the promise of a commission within two months was unrealistic, two years later there is still no commission - nor the political will to create one. The Council should not base its interpretation of Resolution 9/19 on the failure of Burundi to back up its promises with action. The Independent Expert should report at the March Council session regardless of whether a national human rights commission is in place.
Burundi is refusing to allow the Independent Expert to report in the context of an increased crackdown on peaceful dissent in the country. In July, the government arrested journalist Jean Claude Kavumbagu for treason under an article that penalizes attempts "to demoralize the Army ... in times of war." Prosecutors have not explained how the charge is applicable, since Burundi is not at war. Kavumbagu has been held illegally in pre-trial detention for over two months, with the tribunal claiming he is detained for "his own safety." Another journalist, Thierry Ndayishimiye, was arrested in August for accusing the government energy company of corruption, detained for two days, and released on bail. On September 27, attorney François Nyamoya was jailed for criticizing the intelligence service. Two journalists from Radio Publique Africaine, Eric Manirakiza and Bob Rugurika, have received death threats. Civil society leader Pacifique Nininahazwe has been subject to surveillance by vehicles linked to the intelligence service. The Minister of Interior accuses civil society organizations of political bias when they speak out about cases before the criminal justice system. Since the expulsion in June of Human Rights Watch's Burundi researcher, the government has not responded to numerous attempts from Human Rights Watch to initiate dialogue.
Opposition parties are denied the right to freedom of assembly. The police arbitrarily shut down a press conference by an opposition coalition on September 17. The Interior Minister announced that coalitions of parties do not have the right to exist outside of the election period - a claim not supported by Burundian law.
On August 4 the Interior Minister recognized the outcome of an "extraordinary congress" held by dissident members of the main opposition party, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), in which they replaced the FNL's elected leadership with individuals sympathetic to the ruling party. The government's recognition of the extraordinary congress, held contrary to FNL party rules, violated the Law on Political Parties.
Although Burundi has seen greater stability since the end of the civil war in 2009, political violence and other human rights violations persist. The many human rights challenges ahead justify continued attention of this Human Rights Council, and increased engagement and transparency from the government of Burundi.