Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Burundi: Mixed response to new penal code

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 9 December 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Burundi: Mixed response to new penal code, 9 December 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49422f41c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

BUJUMBURA, 9 December 2008 (IRIN) - Legislators in Burundi have won praise for approving a penal code that would abolish capital punishment, outlaw torture and domesticate crimes against humanity such as genocide.

However, human rights groups have urged the country's upper house to remove provisions that criminalise homosexual activity, permit arbitrary detention and limit the responsibility of the state to address domestic violence before the code enters into law.

"We have championed the abolition of the death penalty in the country for many years," said David Nahimana, chairman of Iteka, a Burundian human rights group. "The [approval] of the new penal code is therefore a significant step forward."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed most of the code, noting that it "defines torture and makes it a crime, carrying out Burundi's obligations as a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

"Similarly, the code defines and criminalises genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, integrating these crimes as defined by international conventions into domestic law. All three crimes are punishable by life sentences."

"We applaud the National Assembly for its positive steps," said Alison des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division at HRW in a statement issued on 3 December.

"But we look to the Senate to retain the strong advances in the new penal code while amending the negative provisions concerning homosexual activity, spousal violence, and abuse of power by state agents."

While the new code quadruples the maximum sentence for those convicted of rape from five to 20 years, it has been criticised for obliging victims of domestic abuse to file a complaint before the state can take action, which is not the case with other forms of attack.

Mireille Niyonzima, chairwoman of the Association for the Protection of Women's Rights, said this article segregated women who suffered domestic abuse.

"How can a woman file a complaint when she knows she is still living under the same roof with her husband? How can she file a complaint when she is lying in hospital? We have seen many women getting crippled; some have had their arms cut. Such an article should be removed to put women on the same footing as men."

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