Assassination attempt prompts UN call for protection of human rights defenders in Burundi

Independent Expert on Human Rights Michel Forst. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

Independent Expert on Human Rights Michel Forst. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré

Burundi, 7 August 2015 – Following this week’s assassination attempt on one of Burundi’s leading human rights defenders, an independent United Nations expert has called on the Government to ensure the protection of all rights activists.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa was shot and wounded by unknown assailants in the capital, Bujumbura, on Monday. The attack was strongly condemned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“The attempted killing of such a highly respected activist as Mr. Mbonimpa sends a very chilling message to all members of civil society and also the entire population,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, warned in a press release.

“The Burundian authorities should make it clear that such heinous attacks will not be tolerated and do their utmost to protect human rights defenders from future attacks,” he stressed, calling for immediate protection to be provided to Mr. Mbonimpa during his recovery in the hospital.

Mr. Forst also urged an independent and impartial investigation so that perpetrators are brought to justice with due regard to fair trial standards.

As President of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Incarcerated Persons (APRODH), Mr. Mbonimpa has a longstanding record of advocating for the rights of prisoners and fighting against torture in Burundi. His work has been recognized internationally by human rights awards.

Mr. Mbonimpa has spoken out publicly about controversial issues, including on the recent presidential elections in the country, leading to his arrest and prolonged detention in 2014 and again in April 2015.

“I met Mr. Mbonimpa on several occasions during my visit to Burundi in November 2014, and he struck me as one of the most courageous and respected human rights defenders in the country. The other defenders that I met with referred to him respectfully as ‘The Senior’ (‘Le Doyen’),” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Together with other experts from the UN human rights system, we have repeatedly communicated our grave concerns to the Government about Mr. Mbonimpa’s situation and urged an immediate halt to such intimidating and harassing acts.”

Mr. Forst’s statement has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai; on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff; and Seong-Phil Hong, who currently heads the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.