Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Burundi
Whilst implementation of the comprehensive cease-fire agreement, signed on September 7, 2006 by the Government of Burundi and the rebels, has been blocked since the National Liberation Forces (Forces nationales de libération – FNL) left the negotiating table in July 2007, the presence of the Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People-National Liberation Front (Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu Forces nationales de libération – PALIPEHUTU-FNL) in the west of the country led to human rights violations in 2007 by both the rebels and the security forces.1
The year 2007 had begun, though, with a glimmer of hope for political stability with the release of five of those accused of plotting a coup in 2006, including the former Head of State, Mr. Domitien Ndayizeye, and three journalists from the radio stations Isanganiro and Radio publique africaine. However, delays in implementing the agreement with the FNL and the destitution of the President of the ruling power, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy – Force for the Defence of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie – Force de défense de la démocratie) have provoked a crisis inside this party which paralysed the Parliament and other national institutions. Under pressure from civil society and the country's international partners, the opposition parties agreed to selective participation in parliamentary sessions.2 The political crisis was finally resolved with the constitution of a new Government in November 2007.
As part of the process of reconstructing the country and the consolidation of peace, the new Government has to tackle the issue of transitional justice and bring to light the serious human rights violations committed since the start of the civil war in 1993. In March 2007, it was agreed to set up a tripartite commission for the organisation of popular consultations. This commission is made up of six people representing the State, civil society and the international community. The establishment of a transitional justice mechanism was the main objective of the visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from May 19 to 23, 2007. Civil society organisations notified the High Commissioner, however, that it would be difficult to consider any kind of justice as long as the security situation was not ensured.
Threats and attacks against defenders who denounce torture practised by State agents
In its Final Conclusions in February 2007, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed its alarm at reports that torture is a widespread practice. It also noted its concern about reprisals, intimidation and threats made against human rights defenders, particularly against persons who report acts of torture and ill-treatment, and requested the State to take steps to ensure their protection.3
Despite these Recommendations, in 2007 several NGO members were threatened, intimidated or subject to beatings by the authorities they dared to accuse, primarily police agents. Thus, on February 23, 2007, Mr. Alexis Nzisabira, a member of the Iteka League (Ligue Iteka), was beaten by the Head of the Internal Security Police for having reported acts of torture that the latter would have carried out. Similarly, on March 18, 2007, Mr. Emile Mbokoka, an observer for the Iteka League, was intimidated and threatened verbally by an internal security police agent because of an article that had appeared on the organisation's website on March 16, 2007 on cases of torture carried out by agents of the police force.
Acts of intimidation against defenders who report corruption and trafficking in natural resources
Corruption remained a major problem in Burundi, although it is not considered as such by all State representatives.4 This year, the Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption and Economic Embezzlement (Observatoire de Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Economiques – OLUCOME) continued to be subjected to blackmail and intimidation for having denounced the lack of transparency in mineral extraction in the north of the country and the complicity of Burundi administration officials in smuggling activities. On December 9, 2007, the International Anti-Corruption Day, OLUCOME reported that it was dealing with more than 470 corruption cases and spoke of threats made against other institutions such as the Radio publique africaine. During the award of a prize by OLUCOME to the former Minister of Good Governance for his work in the fight against corruption, the latter, addressing his successor, saluted the role of NGOs, mentioning the Iteka League, the Observatory of Government Action (Observatoire de l'action governmentale – OAG) and other organisations and encouraged him to continue this collaboration. Sadly, this positive approach remains too isolated.
Acts of reprisals against defenders who report abuses of power
Criticism by Burundi human rights defenders of the authorities' abuse of power led to reprisals against them: Mr. Alexis Ndayiragije, a correspondent of Radio sans frontières Bonesha FM in Gitega province, was arrested in April 2007 for broadcasting information about the hijacking of supplies destined for the poor people of one of the country's provinces; another journalist, Mr. Karihungu Amissi, was threatened for reporting the destitution of a district chief by the authorities. Mr. Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, Chairman of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons (Association pour la protection des droits humains et des personnes détenues – A.PRO.D.H), was questioned by the Prosecutor of the Republic on May 18, 2007 for speaking of the delay in handling the case of the killers of nearly 30 people in Muyinga province in the north of the country.
Obstacles to reports of human rights violations committed by the PALIPEHUTU-FNL
There is also a price to pay for reporting human rights violations committed by PALIPEHUTU-FNL rebels (thefts, murders and rapes). Mr. Evariste Nzikobanyanka, a journalist with Radio publique africaine, was threatened by a PALIPEHUTU-FNL member for broadcasting information concerning the killing of two of the movement's members by their companions in arms at the beginning of April 2007.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 The Integrated Office of the United Nations in Burundi (BINUB), which replaced the UN Mission in Burundi on January 1, 2007, referred to these human rights violations in its weekly reports. As an example, in the week of December 3-7, 2007, 238 cases of violations by representatives of the Burundi national police were counted, as well as five cases of violations by agents of the National Defence Force and five cases by agents of the National Intelligence Service. Other reports included evidence of violations committed by the FNL.
2 See Second Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on BINUB, November 23, 2007.
3 See Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, United Nations document CAT/C/BDI/CO/1, February 15, 2007.
4 The European Union invited the Government of Burundi to establish once and for all principles for the efficient and transparent management of State affairs (See Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union, November 27, 2007).