Blatant rights failures in Burundi make upcoming elections ‘impossible,’ UN expert warns

Burundians arriving in Rwanda after fleeing pre-election violence. Photo: UNHCR/Kate Holt

Burundians arriving in Rwanda after fleeing pre-election violence. Photo: UNHCR/Kate Holt

Burundi, 19 June 2015 – Decrying Burundi’s “blatant failures” to respect freedom of expression and assembly and the fact that unresolved issues from the past are ensnaring the process for the upcoming elections, a United Nations rights expert today issued a strong call for greater global efforts to ensure independent monitoring and reporting and for all Burundian parties to safeguard fair elections and keep protests peaceful.

“In Burundi, the neglected violent past has become a major obstacle for the country’s future,” Pablo de Greiff, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, said today while presenting his latest open statement to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

He specifically highlighted the lack of transparency in political parties, the “instrumentalization” of, or outright disregard for the judiciary, the ignorance for the rights of citizens, and the increased manipulation of ethnicity in the country.

Of great concern, Mr. de Greiff said, were the authorities’ “blatant failures to respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

Warning that the governing party and its youth militia use violence to limit freedom of speech and hate speech to obtain certain electoral outcome, the independent expert stressed the utmost importance to disarm those youth militias.

“Voters must be free to support or to oppose any political party…without undue influence or coercion of any kind which may distort or inhibit the free expression of the elector’s will,” Mr. de Greiff underscored, while recalling the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Burundi in 1990.

Turning to democratic legitimacy, it is deliberately circumvented and sharply departed from a rule of law based society, according to Mr. de Greiff.

“This requires not only the absence of coercion and repression, but also for access to media and the possibility to organize meetings,” the expert urged these measures for legitimate elections.

As such a hostile environment does not bode well for free and fair elections, Mr. de Greiff called on Burundi authorities to break the ‘tradition of impunity’, with all parties working constructively together.

Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur encouraged international community to boost its support as fully fledged monitoring capacities on the ground are urgently needed.

Burundi has been embroiled in a political crisis since mid-April when popular protests erupted after the country’s ruling National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate for a third term.

Since early April, nearly 100,000 Burundians have fled across the borders, seeking safety in neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined with 17 partners to launch the Regional Refugee Response Plan.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.