Human Rights Watch welcomes the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
High Commissioner Zeid said in his opening statement at this 37th session that Burundi and a number of other countries or regions in the world had “become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors.” We couldn’t agree more. In the case of Burundi, not only was not enough done to prevent the horrors, but today–after the Commission found “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity” were committed–there’s still no adequate collective action. This is even more appalling as human rights abuses are likely to increase further as the country’s political crisis deepens.
We continue to receive regular reports of murder, arbitrary arrest, and persecution in the country, against a backdrop of almost total impunity.
On March 8, three members of PARCEM (Parole et Action pour le Réveil des Consciences et l’Évolution des Mentalités), a Burundian human rights organization, were convicted to ten years in prison for “threatening state security.” They had been arrested in June 2017. The activists and their lawyers were absent when the verdict was announced.
Meanwhile, the Burundian authorities are organizing a referendum to amend the Constitution, planned for May this year, which would in theory allow president Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power until 2034. On March 10, the ruling party named Nkurunziza its “Eternal Guide.”
Many Burundians who have voiced their opposition to the proposed referendum have been beaten, arrested, and detained. People have been forced to register to vote in the referendum, and some Burundians failing to prove registration have encountered problems at roadblocks or have been denied treatment at hospitals. Hate speech has increased. A ruling party official for example threatened in front of residents to “break the teeth” of those who campaign for people to vote “No” for the proposed referendum.
Instead of facing up to its responsibilities under international law, the Burundian government is in complete denial. Officials have taken insufficient measures to hold those responsible for abuses to account, and continue to refuse any form of cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry. It is high time for UN members to show there are consequences for such actions and consider suspension of Burundi’s Council membership.