GENEVA – A group of United Nations human rights experts, including Maina Kiai, today urged the Security Council to take immediate action to prevent Burundi from sliding back into violent conflict ahead of presidential elections, a crisis which will not leave the other countries in the region, including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, unaffected. Thus far, 145,000 persons have fled to neighbouring countries in fear for their lives.
“The world is witnessing an escalating pattern of politically motivated violence in Burundi, enabled by the country’s decades-long tradition of impunity,” the experts warned. “The international community must not simply stand by and wait for mass atrocities to unfold, thereby risking a major conflict of regional proportions before it finally decides to act,” the Special Rapporteurs added, pointing to repeated cycles of mass violations that Burundi and the Great Lakes region have witnessed in recent history.
The situation in Burundi has already involved serious human rights violations. “It is accumulating the well-known and visible marks of a society which previously suffered divisions leading to grave violence. This can escalate into major conflict through the use of outright repression against, and intimidation of, the population at large, the instrumentalization of the police, the closure of independent media, as well as the detention of the opposition and other civic leaders. We also witness efforts to coerce the judiciary, some of whose highest members have fled the country claiming their lives were at risk. In the meantime, armed militias, with the collaboration of authorities, exercise violence against civilians. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the results of the 29 June elections have generally not been endorsed,” the experts raised alarm.
“The absence of independent media and a climate of repression and fear to exercise civil rights and express opinions, notably by peacefully taking to the streets, have marred the recent elections and will also be defining the forthcoming presidential elections, now scheduled for 21 July. The postponement by six days of the presidential elections does not remedy this blatant deficiency,” the mandate-holders stated.
“If the government persists in holding presidential elections under the current circumstances – something even the former first Vice-President objected to after also having fled the country – they will in no way confer any legitimacy on the to-be-elected authorities. On the contrary, the elections are highly likely to result in major instability and confrontations in Burundi, with the potential to spread to the region,” the experts warned.
On 9 July, the situation on Burundi was most recently discussed by the Security Council. The seven independent experts strongly echoed the call made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to immediately disarm the youth militia Imbonerakure which is spreading major violence and intimidation among the population. The experts join the High Commissioner in recalling that the people of Burundi “have a right to go about their lives peacefully, in freedom, equality and dignity; without fear, and with equitable access to their country’s many resources and opportunities.”
“The Security Council has a unique role for peace and security and for preventing conflicts worldwide. This is a crisis that is eminently preventable – everyone can see the risks. What is lacking is action,” underscored the independent experts. “Given the painful history of Burundi and the region, the long engagement of the United Nations in the country to re-build peace, the Security Council must be all the more alerted to the increasing potential of an escalation of massive violence,” the experts added.
“Burundians, who live in the world’s third poorest country must be spared another cycle of violence, with the misery and destruction that violence always leave on its wake. They look to the Security Council to live up to its unique role in the prevention of mass atrocities,” the experts urged.
The experts: Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Michel Forst; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong.