By Millicent Zighe
Civil rights organizations based in Burundi are now calling for the extension of the mandate of Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established by the United Nations Human Rights Council for an additional one year.
In a joint letter, the human rights monitors said the security situation in the country is still complex, hence there is an urgent need for CoL to ensure scrutiny. The East African nation has been on radar following reports of rampant human rights violations orchestrated by the ruling party National Council for the Defense of Democracy –Forces for Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) through the security agencies and government-leaning Imbonerakure youth group, that has since been identified as a militia group.
With Burundi elections fast approaching human rights groups fear that the unfolding low grade conflict will soar, further exacerbating the situation. “The pre-electoral context is likely to escalate political tensions and we are concerned that there may be a subsequent rise in human rights violations,” the letter in support of the initiative spearheaded by 41 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) both local and international read in part.
The NGOs requested CoI to come up with a report focusing on forthcoming elections during the interactive dialogue at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 43rd session. “By extending its mandate the council will ensure scrutiny of the situation in Burundi, as the CoI remains the only public mechanism to monitor and publicly report on Burundi,” the civil rights actors said.
The likelihood of Burundi having a free and fair election is deteriorating daily, sparking fears among locals with Opposition members bearing the brunt of the dreaded Imbonerakure militia group.
Recently, more than ten opposition party offices were smeared with faeces in what the spokesperson of National Congress for Freedom (CNL), Therence Manirambona, said was an attempt to intimidate the Opposition ahead of 2020 elections.
CoI is tasked with collecting testimonies concerning human rights abuses in Burundi since 2015. Further, it is responsible for formulating recommendations on ways to hold perpetrators of human rights violations responsible. The commission has in the past held that the violations in the country constituted crimes against humanity. Additionally by extending its mandate, UNSC will also provide the CoI and its secretariat time they need to document and build case files for future prosecutions. Nonetheless Burundi has continued to deny human rights violations claims terming them as “lies from faraway”
The letter by civil rights groups also documented the closure of several human rights organizations and media houses in the country. Burundi Government, for example, forced United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) to leave the country.
PARCEM, the last remaining civil rights organization responsible for campaigning for good governance was suspended on June 2019. Burundi has since revoked licenses of over 30 human rights organizations.
Further, the government banned British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of Africa (VOA) accusing the two media houses of airing a documentary tarnishing the reputation of the country and hiring a writer critical of the government. Journalists have since sought exile in neighboring countries for fear of intimidation, harassment, torture and even murder.
CoI was established in September 2016 through a UN resolution, its mandate having been renewed twice since. The Commission engages with stakeholders including United Nations agencies, civil societies, refugees and African Union in order to provide support and expertise to better the security situation in Burundi and fight against impunity.