NEW RELEASES – Following the political upheaval in April 2015, which has left the country in a deep political crisis, many human rights issues have arisen in Burundi – as described by many prominent NGOs such as Human Rights Watch1. Particularly, concerns over the “sharp increase use of torture and ill-treatment”2, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has stated, have been expressed in the past few months. Now, at what point is the situation in Burundi from a human rights point of view? How can it be tackled efficiently and addressed in a proper manner?
Human rights violations and political insecurity
As the CIPADH has already reported, after the political crisis that affected Burundi in 2015 and the incredibly serious news on torture and ill-treatment, a mission of independent experts was sent by the United Nations Human Rights section to describe the state of the political settlement and human rights violations in the country. Thus, upon its return, the team reported that members of the opposition, human rights activists, media actors and many others had been kept in illegal detention centres and facilities run by the Service National de Renseignements (SNR), the police and the army3.
“Since the beginning of the year, my team has recorded at least 345 new cases of torture and ill-treatment. These shocking figures are a clear indicator of the widespread and growing use of torture and ill-treatment by government security forces,”4 said Zeid in April 2016. Moreover, Amnesty International “concluded that both the National Intelligence Services (SNR) and the Burundian National Police (PNB) are responsible for torture and other ill-treatment, using methods that include beating with branches, iron bars, and police batons, stomping on victims, threatening them with death, denying medical care, and verbal abuse.”5
The disturbed images of wounded detainees, some of whom could barely walk and speak properly, have been described by the team members who have expressed their deep concerns over the clear human rights violation that are going on in Burundi.
International community witnessing torture and calling out for a real change
Following the claim of international institutions for a clear improvement of the condition of many prisoners and detainees in Burundi, the local Government demonstrated a willingness to accept the humanitarian claim and freed 45 prisoners. However, this isn’t enough for international human rights bodies and organisations.6
In August 2016, Amnesty International reported that the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) issued a “wake-up call”7 to Burundi’s authorities. Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s East Africa Deputy Regional Director, has stated that “The spike in torture cases we have seen in Burundi since the onset of the crisis is extremely alarming and must be urgently addressed by the Burundian government.”8 In a report submitted to the UN CAT, Amnesty International expressed deep concerns about the degrading treatment and corporal punishment suffered by many people in Burundi in a systematic violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified by Burundi in October 2013.)9
Essentially, the international community was and still is clearly asking for a decisive move on behalf of the Burundian government to finally tackle the issue of inhuman and degrading treatment suffered by a copious amount of people since April 2015.
The future of human rights in Burundi
Under Article 25 of Burundi’s Constitution, “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”10 This should be seen as a milestone in the political and social settlement in Burundi nowadays. The power of fundamentally important laws and constitutional settlements should be reconsidered as a decisively important part of each member of Burundi’s society and not given up for any reason at all.
The matter needs to be addressed, not only for the serious violations of fundamental rights that people in Burundi had to face, but also for the consideration of the ‘side effects’ of this political and humanitarian emergency. In fact, in March 2016 Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, stated that the “UNHCR reported that a total of 250,000 Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers have arrived in the neighbouring countries since the crisis erupted in April 2015.”11 The vicious cycle that has been created over the past few months needs to come to an end now since many refugees are hosted in African countries because of the climate of fear, insecurity and human rights violation that persists in Burundi.
When looking at the future of Burundi, we can only hope that the recommendations issued by the UN will be taken into consideration seriously and thoroughly by the government of Burundi and the human rights matters concerning torture and the delicate condition of Burundian refugees will both be tackled with the aid of the international community.
1 Human Rights Watch (2015), "Burundi, Events of 2015", https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/burundi
2 OHCHR (18 April 2016), "Torture and illegal detention on the rise in Burundi", http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19835&L...
3 Op.Cit. No.1
5 Amnesty International (4 July 2016), "Burundi: Submission to the United Nations Committee Aginst Torture", https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr16/4377/2016/en/
6 Op.Cit. No. 1
7 Amnesty International (12 August 2016), "Burundi: UN findings must be a wake-up call on torture", https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/08/burundi-un-findings-must-...
9 Op.Cit. No. 5
10Burundi's Constitution of 2005, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Burundi_2005.pdf
11 Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the Human Rights Council interactive dialogue on Burundi, Geneva (22 March 2016), http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=18526&L...
MR - Research Assistant at CIPADH
OHCHR (18 April 2016), "Torture and illegal detention on the rise in Burundi", http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19835&L...
Amnesty International (12 August 2016), "Burundi: UN findings must be a wake-up call on torture", https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/08/burundi-un-findings-must-...
Amnesty International (4 July 2016), "Burundi: Submission to the United Nations Committee Aginst Torture", https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr16/4377/2016/en/
Human Rights Watch (2015), "Burundi, Events of 2015", https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/burundi
BBC News (15 May 2015), "Burundi coup bid: Three ringleaders arrested", http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32747515
Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the Human Rights Council interactive dialogue on Burundi, Geneva (22 March 2016), http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=18526&L...
African Review (8 September 2012) "Burundi country", http://www.africareview.com/Country-Profiles/-/979196/1502982/-/ylbfmr/-...
Burundi's Constitution of 2005, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Burundi_2005.pdf