Burundi’s representative at the UN Human Rights Council has shut down hope, once again, that the country would cooperate with the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur, who is responsible for monitoring and reporting on the country’s human rights situation. Burundi accuses the Council of politicized interference in its internal affairs.
On June 29, after an update given by the Special Rapporteur, some states raised concerns about the “targeting of political opposition figures.” They also called for the authorities to “thoroughly investigate and prosecute cases of alleged extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and other human rights violations and abuses.” But at the same time, many praised the government’s efforts, supposed progress achieved, and the questionable work of its national human rights commission, which lacks independence.
From where we stand, it’s unclear what efforts the government is truly making to tackle systemic human rights violations in Burundi. Since President Évariste Ndayishimiye came to power two years ago, our reports have highlighted the same patterns of abuses that took place under the 15-year rule of Pierre Nkurunziza, his predecessor.
We have seen limited positive steps under Ndayishimiye. Burundi’s authorities did lift some suspensions of media and civil society and release several jailed human rights defenders and journalists. But much more is needed if the government is serious about its stated desire to implement reforms and improve its image.
Meanwhile, lawyer and former human rights defender Tony Germain Nkina, who was arrested in October 2020, remains unjustly imprisoned. Despite no credible evidence presented by the prosecution, he was convicted of collaborating with a Burundian rebel group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo that is accused of attacks in Burundi.
The government’s repression remains entrenched, and our latest report documented yet more killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and torture of suspected government opponents. The judiciary is not independent. One egregious case involved eight Burundians who were detained incommunicado and tortured in Tanzania. When Tanzania forcibly returned the refugees, Burundi’s authorities put them on trial for participation in armed groups. Despite a Burundian judge saying the case was political, and the court acquitting them of all charges in August 2021, then again on appeal in March 2022, six of them remain jailed.
It’s time for Burundian authorities to turn promises into action. Giving access to the Special Rapporteur, releasing all those unjustly jailed, and arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of human rights violations would demonstrate its commitment to do so.