Human Rights Watch welcomes the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Burundi, which includes important recommendations on the protection of civil and political as well as social, economic and cultural rights.
The Burundian government has taken a number of positive measures to enhance the protection of human rights since the last UPR and has embarked on consultations on justice reforms. Human Rights Watch welcomes, in particular, the creation of the National Independent Human Rights Commission, measures to reduce prison overcrowding by releasing several thousand prisoners and moves to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for past crimes. However, progress on the latter has been slow and the draft law does not provide for a special tribunal to prosecute those accused of the most serious offences.
We deeply regret that Burundi rejected all recommendations to fight impunity for extra-judicial killings. Human Rights Watch remains particularly concerned at the lack of progress in bringing to justice perpetrators of extrajudicial killings and other acts of political violence since 2010. While the number of killings dropped significantly in 2012, only a small number of individuals have been arrested in connection with these incidents. For the vast majority of political killings in 2010 and 2011, there have been no detailed investigations and no prosecutions. The commission of inquiry mentioned by the Burundian delegation acknowledged that killings had occurred but did not accept that they constituted extrajudicial executions. The Burundian government should take responsibility for abuses committed by state agents and intensify efforts to bring to justice those responsible, including by implementing the recommendations to follow up on cases of executions noted. This will be particularly important in the period leading up to elections in 2015.
In its presentation, the Burundian delegation mentioned the new press bill it had prepared “with a view to promoting full protection for the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” However, this law, promulgated on June 4, contains serious restrictions on media freedoms, contradicting government claims that freedom of expression is guaranteed. In particular, it undermines the protection of sources and limits subjects on which journalists can report. While removing prison sentences, it imposes new, heavy fines for media found in violation of the law. It could potentially criminalize reporting and analysis on subjects such as inflation, security issues and political killings. Human Rights Watch regrets that the government did not implement the UPR recommendations made by Australia and Belgium to ensure that the law conformed to international standards.
The government should ensure that draft laws on non-governmental organizations and on public meetings comply with Burundi’s national and international obligations and enable civil society organizations, and Burundian citizens more generally, to enjoy their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
Civil society activists and journalists have received threats from senior government and intelligence officials in connection with their denunciation of abuses. As highlighted during the UPR, the government should make sure that such intimidation ceases and that civil society activists and journalists can carry out their legitimate activities without fear. Human Rights Watch also notes with concern that the National Communication Council suspended the online readers’ forum of the newspaper Iwacu on May 30 in response to readers’ comments – an unnecessarily heavy-handed reaction that infringes on the right to freedom of expression and limits public debate.
Human Rights Watch urges the Burundian government to implement the UPR recommendations to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and to decriminalize homosexuality. And we deeply regret that all recommendations in this regard were rejected.