(Geneva) – The Burundian government and partners attending a conference on development in Burundi should make human rights issues a top priority. The conference in Geneva on October 29 and 30, 2012, will bring together representatives of the Burundian government, foreign governments, donor agencies, and others.
“The upcoming conference is an opportunity for the Burundian government and its partners to make concrete commitments to protect human rights and to agree on their implementation,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Burundi’s second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP II), for the period 2012 to 2016, prepared in consultation with development partners and other stakeholders, forms the framework for the conference. It outlines the government’s human rights commitments such as strengthening the rule of law, consolidating good governance, increasing the independence of judges, and ensuring justice for all. The strategy paper also states that human rights violations such as torture, assassination, and rape should stop immediately.
In a six-page paper addressed to participants in the conference, Human Rights Watch outlines positive developments and continuing concerns relating, in particular, to political killings, threats against civil society activists and journalists, and transitional justice. The document includes recommendations to the Burundian government, as well as foreign governments and donors to Burundi.
Impunity for those responsible for political violence in 2010 and 2011 remains a serious problem, Human Rights Watch said. Political violence has diminished in 2012, but in the vast majority of cases, the people responsible for the violence have not been brought to justice. A commission of inquiry set up by the prosecutor general in June resulted in a small number of arrests, but much more remains to be done.
While Burundi has a vibrant civil society and independent media, civil society organizations and journalists are often threatened and intimidated by government and intelligence officials. Draft laws before the National Assembly on the media and on public gatherings also threaten to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Donors at the Geneva conference should urge the Burundian government to put an end to impunity by ensuring that the people responsible for political killings and other abuses are identified and prosecuted. They should also call for revisions to the draft laws on the media and public gatherings to ensure they are not used to clamp down on basic freedoms. The Burundian government should refrain from intimidating or obstructing activists and journalists and amend the draft laws to avoid the use of vague language that could lead to abusive prosecutions.
“The Burundian government has repeatedly promised to put an end to human rights violations, but there is a gulf between the rhetoric and the reality,” Bekele said. “Burundi has seen progress in some areas, but this progress is offset by continuing abuses, in particular the absence of justice.”