Civic groups and rights defenders in Burundi face growing repression amid sporadic violence stemming from the president's disputed third term, a group of United Nations human rights experts said Monday.
The U.N. experts believe actions by President Pierre Nkurunziza's government against civil society are "alarming in view of the overall situation for human rights defenders in the country," a statement from the U.N. office in Geneva said.
A number of groups have been banned and a new bill passed by the national assembly last December compels local NGOs to obtain authorization from the interior minister for any activity and to transfer funds of foreign origin through the central bank.
"Disturbingly, these measures take particular aim at human rights defenders and independent civil society, and are being used to unduly obstruct and criminalize their work on broad and often fallacious grounds," the statement said, quoting the U.N. experts, who urged Burundi's government to end impunity and collaborate with a U.N. team investigating alleged rights violations, including murder and forced disappearances often blamed on Burundi's security agencies.
Last October Burundi's government banned three U.N. human rights investigators from entering the country following the release of a report that cited massive rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security agencies.
The U.N. statement Monday said rights defenders who have not fled Burundi are under relentless intimidation, threat of arbitrary detention, torture and disappearance. The group cited the example of Marie-Claudette Kwizera, former treasurer of the group Ligue ITEKA, who disappeared in December 2015 and is still missing.
Hundreds have died in Burundi since Nkurunziza pursued and won a third term that many said was unconstitutional. Burundi has seen violent street protests, forced disappearances and assassinations since the ruling party announced Nkurunziza's candidacy in April 2015.
This article was published on WHIO's website on February 6, 2017.
Speaking out against a ban and provisional suspension of a number of civil society organizations in Burundi, United Nations rights experts warned today of growing repression of human rights defenders and groups amid the already difficult environment in which they.
Also worrying, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) were two bills adopted by the National Assembly of Burundi last December that require local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to obtain authorization from the Minister of the Interior for any activity and that the work of foreign NGOs must comply with priorities set by the Government.
“These moves are just the latest in a series of attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and association in Burundi,” said the rights experts.
“Disturbingly, these measures take particular aim at human rights defenders and independent civil society, and are being used to unduly obstruct and criminalize their work on broad and often fallacious grounds.”
Authorities in Burundi banned five civil society organizations in October 2016. In December 2016, they also barred two other groups, one of which was working for good governance and the fight against corruption. Additionally, four other organizations have also been provisionally suspended.
Also in the release, the experts reiterated the “unanimous” strong stance of various bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council – the inter-governmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world – on allegations of serious human rights violations in Burundi, the experts called on the Governmental to “an end to the climate of impunity currently prevailing in the country” and to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and with OHCHR in a positive and collaborative manner, as an essential step towards ending the major crisis facing the country.
“It is crucial that the State promotes and protects the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Burundi is a State party,” they said.
“All individuals, including human rights defenders, have the right to express themselves and associate freely, without fear of threats, intimidation, violence, arbitrary detention or enforced or disappearance,” the experts added.
The human rights experts voicing their concern included:
This press release was published on the UN News Centre's website on February 6, 2017.