This week, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights was meant to present a report by three UN experts on the situation in Burundi to the UN’s top human rights body. Instead, from the podium, she had to inform the Human Rights Council that no report could be presented, due to Burundi’s total lack of cooperation.
Indeed, Burundi refused to work with the three UN experts it itself had endorsed, revoking their visas in April this year. This is just one more refusal by Burundi to cooperate with UN bodies over its deteriorating human rights record. In the past year, Burundi has also continued to not cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry – charged with investigating abuses in the country since April 2015 – and just yesterday, declared its members persona non grata. As a member of the Human Rights Council, Burundi has the responsibility to cooperate with the UN. Instead, it has become a poster child for obstruction.
Meanwhile the Commission of Inquiry, which has managed to collect evidence from outside Burundi despite its lack of direct access, has reported more damning findings. They state that crimes against humanity are still taking place in the country.
With the current Council session still ongoing, the best outcome for victims of human rights crimes in Burundi is for the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry to be renewed for another year, to allow its critical investigations and work towards accountability to continue. As the Commission’s president himself said, the body is the only international and independent tool to investigate these crimes in Burundi and identify alleged perpetrators. Continued scrutiny is also critical as Burundi prepares for elections in 2020, which has already created a climate of fear and abuse.
While states at the Human Rights Council might strive for a compromise with Burundi, it should not be at the cost of weakening the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate. Anything less than a full renewal would not only be caving in to Burundi’s non-cooperation, but also more importantly, would shield those committing grave crimes from scrutiny.