Hears Address by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, and Concludes General Debate on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights
17 September 2018
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. The Council also heard an address by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, and concluded its general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
Lord Ahmad expressed gratitude to outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and congratulated his successor Michelle Bachelet on her appointment. He deeply regretted the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Council, which should make everyone pause to reflect on the challenges that the Council faced. Membership was one such area. Countries standing for the Council’s membership were duty bound to uphold the highest standards, and to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. Lord Ahmad underlined the suffering of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, and continuous flouting of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria. He urged for more progress in securing long-term reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and called on the Government of Maldives to cease all interference in independent institutions, including the judiciary, Parliament and the Elections Commission.
Doudou Diène, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that over 400 testimonies from victims and witnesses of human rights violations had been collected by the Commission, in addition to the 500 interviews conducted during the mandate’s first year. The persistence of serious human rights violations had been confirmed, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and cruel and inhumane treatment, sexual violence, and violation of civil liberties. Some of those violations constituted crimes against humanity.
Francoise Hampson, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, stressed that State agents, in particular members of the National Intelligence Service and the police, were committing serious human rights violations, while administrative authorities ordered such commissions, including arbitrary arrests, detention, and ill treatment. The growing role of the Imbonerakure in controlling the population was a serious issue of concern as was the absence of an independent judiciary.
Lucy Asuagbor, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the crisis, which had begun in April 2015, had further weakened the country in which over 64 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2014. In 2016, Burundi had gone from a developing country to a country in a state of humanitarian emergency, with one million people needing shelter, water, education, nutrition, and protection. This number had increased to 3.6 million in early 2018, said Ms. Asuagbor.
Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, rejected the findings of the Commission, stating that they were part of a politically motivated lie, advocating for the radical opposition in the State. The report spread hatred and caused divisiveness. What was currently happening was a question of geopolitical appetites and not of human rights. The Security Council’s report was very positive, while the Council, and its Commission that was initiated by the European Union, said the contrary. The sanctions of the European Union against Burundi were a violation of international solidarity.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers deeply regretted that Burundi, a member of the Human Rights Council, refused to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, despite resolution 36/2. Widespread impunity and persistence of severe human rights violations, some of which amounted to crimes against humanity, were alarming. Speakers expressed fear that the 2020 elections could take place in a climate of abuse and repression throughout the country, particularly since parallel power structures were being developed. Through Imbonerakure, the regime had a ubiquitous apparatus for intimidation and violence. Some States supported the renewal of the Commission’s mandate and called on Burundi to urgently start cooperating with human rights mechanisms and initiate swift judicial reform. Other States said the international community should respect Burundi’s sovereignty and urged the Council to avoid the politicisation of human rights issues. They said the Commission’s mandate was inoperable and inefficient as only through dialogue could human rights be achieved.
Speaking were European Union, Canada, Slovenia, Estonia, Switzerland, France, Germany, Denmark, Russia, Austria, United Kingdom, Croatia, Spain, China, Czechia, Cuba, Australia, Venezuela, Georgia, Iran, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Tanzania, and Sudan.
The following non-governmental organizations took the floor: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (in a joint statement with Centre for Civil and Political Rights, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and TRIAL International), International Service for Human Rights, Article 19- International Centre Against Censorship, Amnesty International, Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme, Human Rights Watch, and Health and Environment Programme.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. The previous parts of the general debate, held on Friday, 14 September, can be read here and here.
During the discussion, speakers raised many issues, including the need for States to legally recognize the right to development and implement it in practice. The fulfilment of the right to development called for international cooperation in accordance with the United Nations Charter. It was concerning that many States had laws that worked in contradiction to the medical needs of women, denying critical medical treatment for women who had abortions, or withholding medical services based on religious beliefs. Special Procedures were the only mechanism to present complaints to the Council; however, those reports did not provide precise clear trends and were not subject to Council discussions during sessions. The Council was urged to define a space to have those reports debated. Finally, speakers stressed that human rights defenders continued to suffer reprisals and abuses in numerous Council Member States and this was severely undermining the credibility of the Council.
During the general debate, the following non-governmental organizations took the floor: Society for Development and Community Empowerment, Tourner la page, Le Pont, International Career Support Association, International Solidarity for Africa, Franciscans International, Iraqi Development Organization, International Service for Human Rights, Alsalam Foundation, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, International Commission of Jurists, African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, International Educational Development, Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme, European Union of Public Relations, Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, Ius Primi Viri International Association, Africa Culture International, Réseau International des Droits Humains (RIDH), International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM), Global Welfare Association, Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation, Health and Environment Program (HEP), Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale, International Humanist and Ethical Union, European Centre for Law and Justice, International Buddhist Relief Organisation , L'Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie, Indian Council of Education, Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights (APWCR), Jeunesse Étudiante Tamoule, Press Emblem Campaign, Bahjat Al-Baqir Charity Foundation, Asian Legal Resource Centre and Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme..
The Council will next meet hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.
General Debate on All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development
Society for Development and Community Empowerment stated that there were clear violations of human rights in Catalonia. Those opposed to the Government, including school teachers or artists, had been accused of hate or terrorism and had been robbed of their rights, facing maximum prosecution with disproportionate measures. The Society asked the Council to urge Spain to release political prisoners, open dialogue and extend their invitation for the Special Rapporteur to visit Catalonia.
Tourner la Page said there was nearly complete acceptation that Sri Lanka was responsible for atrocious crimes, particularly during the last months of the war. United Nations special reports put the civil death toll at 40,000. The Petrie Report detailed not only crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Government but also the lack of international response to counter those acts. They asked the Council to protect the Tamil people from genocide.
Le Pont drew the Council’s attention to the situation in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Unilateral coercive measures meant a scarcity of food and medicine in Venezuela. With respect to Nicaragua, sanctions were counterproductive and harmful to the needs of the Nicaraguan people. Those measures were illegal. Le Pont requested a peaceful and constructive outcome for those two countries and urged the Council to set up an independent body to investigate.
International Career Support Association said that international child abduction to Japan still occurred and in 2018, the United States and Japan were not complaint with The Hague Convention, as the adoption process under this Convention took two years instead of six weeks. This induced child abduction and infringed on the principle of the best interest of the child.
International Solidarity for Africa expressed concern about Sri Lanka’s continued failure to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms and the Government agenda which violated the Tamils’ right to self-determination. The grave situation of human rights in Tamil Nadu was also evidenced by the illegal treatment of its human rights defenders, said the Association, urging the Council’s immediate action.
Franciscans International welcomed the reports on enforced disappearances and on mercenaries, noting that those two mandates were very relevant to evidencing the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Philippines, where more than 27,000 persons, mainly the poor, had been killed by the police or by the death squads mandated by the Philippines’ authorities. The Council should establish an international commission of inquiry into the extra-judicial killings committed in the context of the war on drugs.
Iraqi Development Organization warned about crimes occurring against the Yemeni people. The crimes detailed in the report were just the tip of the iceberg. The blockade, combined with airstrikes, caused humanitarian catastrophes and mass suffering among civilians, particularly children. Over 200,000 continued to suffer the consequences of the blockade and a child died every 10 minutes.
International Service for Human Rights said that human rights defenders continued to suffer reprisals and human rights abuses. Seventeen Council members had failed to respond to communications, so it was vital that the Council requested a speedy update on the situation concerning human rights defenders. This situation was undermining the credibility of the Council.
Alsalam Foundation raised concern about Bahrain’s imprisonment, harassment and denial of medical care to the arbitrarily detained political prisoner Hassan Mushaima, who was serving a life sentence in Bahrain’s notorious Jau Prison after he was tortured for his leading role in the 2011 pro-democracy movement. The United Kingdom and the United States were urged to call on the Bahraini authorities to provide unrestricted medical treatment.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc read a portion of a letter received from a Bahraini woman arbitrarily detained in the Isa Town Women’s Prison. Her letter detailed her arrest and detention, where she was subjected to torture and blindfolded so she could not identify her abusers. She was imprisoned for three years after an unfair trial, where she was not allowed to prove that she had been tortured to give a confession. The organization condemned Bahrain’s ongoing abuses.
International Commission of Jurists said that impunity in Manipur, India had to be combatted. New prospects and justice in this region would make a contribution to the transition out of the longstanding conflict. They also asked for the Government to stop the overbroad use of force. In addition, two United Nations Special Rapporteurs had said that justice had to be done in Manipur. Investigative inquiries needed to be sought to identify the perpetrators of human rights violations.
African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters said it was well documented that the Indian occupation in Jammu and Kashmir had resulted in massive human rights violations. In 2013, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women had said that women in those regions were in a constant state of fear because of the siege. They pleaded that the Council take the steps necessary to solving the root cause of the problem, unresolved self-determination.
Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that the right to development was an inalienable right of all peoples, thus all humans had an individual and collective responsibility to ensure the realization of this right. This called for international cooperation and collaboration in accordance with the United Nations Charter, and States must fulfil their duty to implement a new international order to fulfil human rights.
Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik regretted not having had any interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and said that since the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iranian currency had significantly devalued, exposing the Iranian population to higher levels of economic hardships. Warning about the corruption within the Iranian regime, the speaker said that the ordinary Iranians were hurting.
International Educational Development drew the Council’s attention to Iran’s aggression and the coordinated long-range missile attacks against Kurdistan, noting that in those indiscriminate attacks, scores of civilians had been killed. The international community should condemn the attacks and establish an independent commission of inquiry.
Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme said that the report of the Rapporteur, assessing the situation which was also studied by the Committee, pointed to the increase of human rights violations in Gulf countries. Pressure needed to be exerted on Saudi Arabia to ensure the rights of Qatari citizens, as well as Bahrain in order to see a change of their behaviour. Bahrain had made efforts to change the demography of the country.
European Union of Public Relations said that Pakistan had become an increasingly hostile country. In years to come, it would become synonym with violence. Anyone daring to disagree and express their opinions online were exposed to harassment and arbitrary arrest. Cyber law punished anyone daring to disagree with the Government and security forces.
Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba said that culture was the first thing that needed to be saved. The confrontation between neo-liberal globalization and cultural identity had been the theme of consideration of many. Links with the community and identity were needed. The commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba undermined the rights of the Cuban people.
IUS PRIMI VIRI International Association said that terrorist groups abused the rights of children. The United Nations’ Children’s Fund had reported the use of children in the armed Al Houthi movement, where thousands of children were used, victimised and killed. The Al Houthis had imposed upon local leaders a minimum quota for the recruitment of children, without which, they would not be provided for. The Association was disappointed that the international community had not reacted to these actions.
Africa Culture internationale said older persons needed to be better respected in the world of work. The world no longer took into account their skills, although they comprised a large segment of the world’s population. Governments needed to intervene to give help to those people by urging and providing incentives for businesses to hire the elderly. Businesses also needed to be more responsible and take better care of those older people already employed.
Réseau International des Droits Humains (RIDH) said that Special Procedures were the only mechanism to present complaints to the Human Rights Council. However, those reports did not provide precise clear trends and patterns and they were not subject to Council discussions during sessions. The organization urged the Council to define a space to have those reports debated, which would improve their visibility and address grave human rights violations.
International Youth and Student Movement of the United Nations said that the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights presented an opportunity to reaffirm that human rights were universal and indivisible, which included the obligation to promote the right to development. The oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights mainly dealt with the violation of civil and political rights, but should also have included violations of economic, social and cultural rights and threats to the right to development.
International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) recalled the support and assistance that the United Nations had lent to the decolonization process and the realization of the right to self-determination of many peoples. Some peoples and nations had fallen through the cracks though, said the Association, noting that the illegal occupation of the Hawaiian Islands was a result of manipulation of the United Nations Decolonization Commission by the United States, which had made the United Nations complicit in this process.
Global Welfare Association brought to the Council’s attention the violation of the human rights of Sri Lanka’s people, mainly the majority Singhalese, by Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, adopted with the support of the Government of Sri Lanka, but without any consultation with the people themselves. This resolution was full of lies and omissions. The United Nations officials involved in this issue must be held accountable.
Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation said that the right to development was essential for the development of a society after a war. In Sri Lanka, the war had ended with the impoverishment of the predominantly Tamil population. Unfortunately, the funds that arrived following the end of the war were not sent to war-affected areas and those in need. Provincial governments were not consulted when planning the funds.
Health and Environment Program (HEP) appreciated the report on activities, which led to promote the right of development. Sustainable development was essential in order to fulfil the right to development. Each State had to have its sovereignty over its natural resources and economic activity. African countries were suffering from debt and were unable to get out of this situation.
Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Cooperation Economique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale said that the right to development was a social, political, economic and cultural process allowing everyone to develop on an equal footing. While the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was being implemented, the Sahrawi population were living without any rights. For over 40 years they had been suffering from the Polisario Front in the Tindouf camps.
International Humanist and Ethical Union said that 830 women died everyday due to maternal mortality. Women, including adolescents, needed access to safe abortion and contraception. However, many States had laws that worked in contradiction to those needs, denying critical medical treatment for women who had abortions, or withholding medical services based on religious beliefs. Compounding those denials with child marriages was in direct violation of women’s human rights.
European Centre for Law and Justice said that ISIS abuses had forced Christians to flee the Middle East. There had been massive deportations, torture and rapes, which caused the displacement of thousands without hope for resettlement. The genocide of Christians in the Middle East deserved the attention of the Council. It was imperative that the United Nations declare those atrocities as genocide and they also needed to provide assistance to clean up the destruction caused by ISIS.
International Buddhist Relief Organization said that Sri Lanka’s previous Government had accorded many rights to the Tamils. They also noted that their military had defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a violent terrorist group. That group had been defeated at a high cost, however, the Council had charged the military with war crimes. The people of Sri Lanka were concerned by the fact that the Council was determined to punish rather than praise its Government.
L'Observatoire Mauritanien des Droits de l'Homme et de la Démocratie alerted the Council about the victims of enforced disappearances and genocide against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, noting that over 140,000 people had gone missing during the war. Those who had committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity were now in Sri Lanka’s Government, police and military. How could this state of affairs be called reconciliation, the speaker wondered?
Indian Council of Education, speaking on the right to development, stressed that following the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights, this right had been recognized as a human right from which obligations of States arose. All stakeholders should work to remove obstacles to the realization of the right to development. There must be a political will of States to legally recognize this right and implement it in practice.
Association for the Protection of Women and Children’s Rights (APWCR) said that India, instead of taking action as requested by the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on Kashmir, had given license to its 750,000 soldiers to carry on the genocide, and was changing the demographic make-up of this region in various manners. The Council should establish a commission on inquiry as early as possible and rescue the Kashmiris.
Jeunesse Étudiante Tamoule said that after Iraq, Sri Lanka had the highest number of forced disappearances. The recent discovery of another mass grave in Mannar proved beyond doubt the schemes of the armed forces. The Sri Lankan military had institutionalised torture chambers and massacre sites attached to its military base in the area.
Press Emblem Campaign welcomed the report on the safety of journalists. At this session, Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia were preparing a new draft resolution on the safety of journalists and these countries were thanked for their concern and efforts to improve the situation on the ground, which was deteriorating. At least 90 journalists had been killed between January and September this year.
Bahjat Al-Baqir Charity Foundation called for cooperation in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Coordination between the government, private sector and civil society was needed to pursue development. The Foundation praised the Iraqi people who had sacrificed everything while fighting ISIS, on behalf of the entire world.
Asian Legal Resource Centre said collective reports from States were required to protect human rights. However, they noted that many States avoided such participation. All State institutions needed to complement each other to promote human rights. How could subservient judiciaries and rigged electoral systems help the people they were meant to serve? The Centre called for the construction of innovative and effective programmes to protect human rights.
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme said that the right to health was a basic human right but that victims of Ebola continued to live in poverty in places like Guinea and Liberia. Those places also needed assistance to reconstitute their health systems. The recognition that mental health also played a role in people’s ability to contribute to society was important.
The Council has before it the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (A/HRC/39/63).
Presentations by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
DOUDOU DIÈNE, President of the Commission on Inquiry on Burundi, introducing the Commission’s final report, regretted the decision of the Burundian Government to declare its members as personae non gratae and said that in the course of the implementation of the second term of the mandate, the Commission had collected more than 400 testimonies from victims and/or witnesses of human rights violations, in addition to the 500 interviews conducted during the mandate’s first year. The Commission was therefore able to confirm the persistence of serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and cruel and inhumane treatment, sexual violence, and violations of civil liberties, in particular freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and movement.
Some of those violations, continued the President, constituted crimes against humanity and had been committed in the context of the intensification of forceful recruitment of the Burundian population into the ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy and its youth league, the Imbonerakure, ahead of and during the campaign for the referendum to amend the Constitution. The targeted persons were mainly opponents of the Government and the ruling party, Burundians attempting to flee the country, journalists and members of civil society organizations. The Commission’s findings, stressed Mr. Diéne, were consistent with the findings of the United Nations Security Council which on 22 August 2018 had strongly condemned all violations and abuses of human rights in Burundi.
FRANÇOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, stressed that State agents in Burundi, in particular members of the National Intelligence Service and the police, were most involved in the commission of serious human rights violations, while administrative authorities ordered such commissions, including arbitrary arrests, detention, and ill treatment. The growing role of the Imbonerakure in controlling the population was a serious issue of concern; according to numerous testimonies, they were the main perpetrators of human rights violations, especially outside of Bujumbura. Also of concern were the repeated calls for hatred and violence by authorities, including by the Head of State and members of the ruling party, and the overall context of impunity. The judiciary was not independent, while the use of the broadly and vaguely defined offence of “undermining the internal security of the State” to prosecute opponents had given rise to numerous abuses and violations of rights of the accused. Expressing doubts about the capacity of the Burundian justice system to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes, the Commission called upon the International Criminal Court to fill the gap.
LUCY ASUAGBOR, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the crisis which had begun in April 2015 had further weakened the country in which over 64 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2014. In 2016, Burundi had gone from a developing country to a country in a state of humanitarian emergency, with one million people needing shelter, water, education, nutrition, and protection. This number had increased to 3.6 million in early 2018, said Ms. Asuagbor. The Government had further exacerbated the economic challenges of the majority of the population by raising taxes and introducing new ones, and subjecting the population to the payment of contributions without any legal basis, such as the “contribution for the 2020 elections”. At the same time, during the 2015-2018 period, the funding for the National Intelligence Service, the Special Brigade for the Protection of Institutions, and the Unit in Support of the Protection of Institutions had increased by 12 per cent, 13.3 per cent and 47.6 per cent respectively, while the allocations to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock had been reduced by 27 per cent.
DOUDOU DIÈNE, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the Government of Burundi must put an end to human rights violations and prosecute the perpetrators of those crimes, as well as fully cooperate with human rights mechanisms. Given the lack of an independent international mechanism in Burundi to investigate human rights violations, the Commission was requesting that its mandate be renewed for another year, which was particularly important in light of the upcoming elections in 2020.
Statement by Burundi
Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said that after having carefully scrutinized the Commission of Inquiry’s report on Burundi, they publicly rejected its findings, stating they were part of a politically motivated lie. The report was insulting and denigrating, and it advocated for the radical opposition in the State. So scandalous was the report that its authors had not upheld even a minimum level of dignity or responsibility. In the name of that Commission, Doudou Diène had presented a report that constituted a flagrant violation of the principle of non-interference in the interior affairs of Burundi. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter stated that the United Nations did not have the authority to intervene in matters which were within the domestic jurisdiction of any State. The content and recommendations of the report were characteristic of the will of interference with the personality of the Burundian State.
Each chapter provided a synoptic scheme of violators of human rights. First were the grave violations of human rights, second were the victims who were the political opposition or members of their families, and third, the perpetrators, who were often national intelligence servants, the police, the Imbonerakure and the Government. The report spread hatred and caused divisiveness concerning matters of human rights violations. The Human Rights Council could not lead the world to believe that it was fulfilling its role to promote and protect human rights when it compiled elements that had nothing to do with the State, their people or the Government. A culture of truth should be upheld, not a culture of lies.
What was currently happening in Burundi was a question of geopolitical appetites and not a question of human rights. How could the United Nations organs be so different in their views of the country? The Security Council’s report had been very positive. However, the Human Rights Council, through the Commission of Inquiry that had been initiated by the European Union, said the contrary, that the situation was degrading and very alarming. Regarding the acts of the European Union, their sanctions were a flagrant violation of international solidarity. The European Union was far from respecting human rights. The people of Burundi would never give up their sovereignty to the profit of foreign bodies.
Facing this distressing report, Burundi asked its partners to enter into constructive cooperation based on respect and equality. In light of all that, Burundi was going forward with its 2020 elections, with a roadmap already outlined and signed by the country’s political actors.
Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
European Union regretted that Burundi, a Member State of the Council, had refused to cooperate both with the Commission of Inquiry as well as with the High Commissioner’s experts. The Government was called on to re-establish cooperation with human rights mechanisms, as the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry were extremely grave. Canada was alarmed about the violations occurring in Burundi, particularly with the impunity surrounding State agents implicated in violations, and called on Burundi to cooperate with the United Nations and the Council’s mechanisms. Slovenia shared concern about the persistence of human rights violations in Burundi, including those amounting to crimes against humanity, and deplored that the State was refusing to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms that were deployed in accordance with resolution 36/2.
Estonia was worried about reported extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and the judiciary’s lack of independence, which had sustained the impunity prevailing in Burundi, and supported the call of the Commission for a thorough judiciary reform. Switzerland was alarmed with developments and called upon Burundi to rapidly put in place measures to stop the climate of impunity and initiate a judiciary reform. Burundi’s decision to declare experts of the Commission of Inquiry as personae non gratae was deplorable. France was concerned about the findings of the Commission, suggesting there were crimes against humanity, and it was reiterated that free and fair elections in 2020 would contribute to the improvement of the situation.
Germany deeply regretted that Burundi, a member of this Council, had refused to cooperate with its mechanisms, and deeply concerned about the persistence of severe human rights violations, impunity and the reduction of democratic space in the country, supported the renewal of the Commission’s mandate. Germany asked the Commission what the international community could do to support its work. Denmark noted with great concern that the human rights situation in Burundi had not improved and that the persecutions continued to happen with almost total impunity, which was unacceptable. Denmark called upon Burundi to start cooperating with human rights bodies. Russia saw a clear trend to stabilization in Burundi and condemned the continued attacks of extremists. The issue of the recent referendum on the Constitutional amendment was strictly an affair concerning Burundi, which carried the responsibility to address the situation in the country by itself.
Austria was extremely concerned about the continued human rights violations in Burundi, which according to the Commission amounted to crimes against humanity. While the widespread and persistent impunity left little hope that things would change on the ground, it was essential to continue documenting the ongoing violations to ensure accountability in the long run. United Kingdom reiterated its position that genuine, inclusive dialogue, with all parties, remained the only viable option to resolve the political crisis. It asked the Commission what its priorities would be going forward and what the Government of Burundi would have to do to ensure that the elections were free, fair and credible. Croatia recognized the negative impact of the crisis and impunity to the economic and social situation of the population, who increasingly lacked access to basic needs, and was concerned about human rights violations against those who tried to flee or who returned to Burundi.
Spain was concerned about continuing human rights violations committed by certain groups, like the Imbonerakure, as well as widespread impunity in Burundi. Spain urged the Government to end those violations, to favour a robust judiciary to hold perpetrators to account, and to combat impunity. China noted that the situation in Burundi was stable and that the Government had made positive steps towards achieving economic and social development. China also said that the international community should respect Burundi’s sovereignty, promote their political processes, and avoid the politicisation of human rights issues. Czechia said Burundi’s 2015 elections did not meet international democratic standards and now, the impact could be seen in the country’s economic and social situation. They also noted the growing role of the youth militia, Imbonerakure, which had suppressed political opposition, as well as the State’s failure to protect its citizens.
Australia welcomed President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would not seek another term and called on the Government to ensure free, fair and transparent elections that included all political parties and women. Australia was concerned about the impunity found in Burundi concerning perpetrators of human rights violations. Venezuela recognized the political will of Burundi. Venezuela had voted against the creation and prolongation of the mandate, which infringed on Burundi’s right to self-determination. The mandate was inoperable and inefficient and had led to no results; only through dialogue could human rights be achieved. Georgia said that ongoing torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced disappearances in Burundi were alarming. The deterioration of the situation of civil rights was also of concern. Georgia called on the Government to guarantee the freedom of expression and to implement recommendations from present and previous reports of the Commission.
Iran said that since the beginning of the crisis in 2015, Burundi had pursued interactions and cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, which was why the best approach for improving the situation would be extending technical assistance and capacity building. Belgium shared concern over the persistence of human rights violations and stressed that the authorities had to ensure that perpetrators were brought to justice. For the 2020 elections, it was essential that civil society and the opposition were able to work together and function independently. Netherlands noted that the extension of the Commission’s mandate was crucial for ensuring justice for victims, especially in the run up to the elections of 2020 which could take place in a climate of abuse and repression throughout the country.
Iceland expressed concern over the lack of cooperation of Burundian authorities with the Council’s mechanisms, despite resolution 36/2. Violence committed by the National Intelligence Service, police, army and the Imbonerakure was alarming. Luxembourg was disappointed over the continued refusal of Burundi to cooperate and reminded that under resolution 60/251, as a member of the Council, Burundi was obliged to cooperate with Special Procedures and the Council’s mechanisms. Norway highlighted one aspect that received more attention than in previous Commission’s reports: the build-up of parallel power structures, like Imbonerakure and the committee of generals, through which the regime had a ubiquitous apparatus for political repression, intimidation and violence.
Tanzania said it followed with keen interest the situation in Burundi, which had a potential to grow into a crisis, and its spill-over effect in the form of hundreds of thousands of refugees that Tanzania was already hosting. Tanzania urged the Commission and the international community to actively support the repatriation of Burundian refugees currently in Tanzania. Sudan reiterated its steadfast position that human rights mechanisms should respect the national sovereignty of States and refrain from politicization and double standards. Sudan trusted that Burundi had the will and desire to constructively cooperate with the international community once there was an environment of trust.
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project noted the loss of lives of many human rights defenders in Burundi and asked when the Government of this country would recognize the truth, change its course, and cooperate with international human rights mechanisms. International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, in a joint statement with Centre for Civil and Political Rights, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and TRIAL International, said that human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearance and sexual violence, as well as the persecution of human rights defenders, had continued in Burundi even after 30 June 2018. Given the upcoming elections, it was vital to maintain an international mechanism of inquiry into all human rights violations in Burundi. International Service for Human Rights was concerned about the continued crackdown on human rights defenders in Burundi, citing the case of Germain Rukuki, a human rights defender working for Association des Juristes Catholiques who had recently been sentenced to 32 years in prison for, inter alia, “breach of State security”. Article 19 - The International Centre against Censorship was troubled about the persistence of human rights violations in Burundi where the right to freedom of expression and association had become virtually non-existent, which would enable the ruling party to avoid all accountability for its crimes.
Amnesty International noted that the adverse impact of the political crisis in Burundi was deeply worrying as increased taxes were impoverishing the population and people had been ill-treated when unwilling to pay their “voluntary” contribution to the 2020 elections. Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme said that some of the human rights abuses committed in Burundi amounted to crimes against humanity. The perpetrators of those crimes, mainly members of the intelligence service and the ruling party’s youth, remained unpunished. Human Rights Watch stated that its researchers had just interviewed Burundians who had fled to Uganda since the referendum. They had spoken of beatings, threats and intimidation of those who had voted against the constitutional change. The Council should not cave in to Burundi’s repeated obstruction. Health and Environment Programme stressed that the findings of the Commission of Inquiry were serious, adding that Burundi’s threat to withdraw from the Council should be taken seriously. It called on States to provide the necessary technical assistance to Burundi and that the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry be extended by one year.
DOUDOU DIÈNE, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, thanked the States that supported the extension of the mandate of the Commission. The refusal of Burundi to cooperate and its decision to declare the Commission’s experts as personae non gratae was deplorable. The report wanted to look into the depth of the crisis in Burundi and to give the background to the crisis. It was extremely important to understand that the current crisis had deep historical roots, and the international community had to be aware of that. Four points were vital when thinking about a framework for dealing with the crisis. First, human rights violations were documented. Second, impunity of perpetrators remained. Third, there was lack of cooperation of the authorities with all mechanisms. Fourth, there were upcoming elections in 2020. Thus, the elections themselves offered a framework. The fact that the Security Council had also concluded that there were serious human rights violations in Burundi was a serious argument for the extension of the mandate of the Commission for another year.
FRANÇOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that in order for the 2020 elections to be fair, an environment that would allow free and fair elections had to be promoted and the actions of Imbonerakure had to be brought to an end. Refugees had to be able to vote. As for dialogue and cooperation, in reality, this dialogue did not exist but the Commission was seeking it. It was very important that human rights abuses were documented as a first step in fighting impunity. For that reason, the Commission was seeking the extension of the mandate for another year.
LUCY ASUAGBOR, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, answering the comments from the Slovenian delegation, said that the crisis affected women and children the most, as the most vulnerable members of the community. The rights of children had to be promoted and protected, in particular since Burundi had ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. To improve the situation of children, an increase of spending on social affairs would be one way and reducing the overall spending on defence would be another. Humanitarian aid had to be allowed without any difficulties.
Address by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom
LORD AHMAD OF WIMBELDON, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, expressed gratitude to outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for his commitment and dedication to furthering the cause of human rights during his tenure. He also congratulated his successor, Michelle Bachelet, on her appointment, noting that her wealth of knowledge, and her personal and professional experience would be invaluable in her role. Lord Ahmad deeply regretted the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Council, which should make everyone pause to reflect on the challenges that the Council faced. Membership was one such area. Countries standing for the Council’s membership were duty bound to uphold the highest standards, and to cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms. Turning to the situation in Myanmar, Lord Ahmad emphasized that the findings of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission about the atrocities committed against the Rohingya community made for horrific reading. The report confirmed the appalling and systematic oppression of the Rohingya people over a number of years, and it highlighted patterns of violence and violations elsewhere in the country. The Rohingya had to receive justice for the horrific acts perpetrated against them.
In Syria, human rights and international humanitarian law continued to be flouted on a daily basis, with the torture of detainees, bombing of schools and hospitals, and credible reports of chemical weapon attacks. The United Kingdom was deeply concerned about the escalating military action by the Syrian regime and its backers in north west Syria, which was putting millions of civilians at risk. The United Kingdom called on the regime and its backers in Russia and Iran to uphold the ceasefire they had previously agreed upon, and to respect international humanitarian law. Turning to Sri Lanka, Lord Ahmad welcomed the steps being taken by the Government to return land to its people, and to begin the work of the Office on Missing Persons. The United Kingdom urged for more progress in implementing the commitments made to the Council to secure long-term reconciliation. On Maldives, the United Kingdom continued to urge the Government to cease all interference in independent institutions, including the judiciary, Parliament and the Elections Commission. The United Kingdom urged the Government to ensure that the elections later in September were free and fair. Furthermore, the United Kingdom was committed to ensuring that all girls, everywhere, received 12 years of quality education. Delivering on that goal would require genuine political commitment and cooperation from all Member States.
In conclusion, Lord Ahmad stressed that the human rights picture in many parts of the world was bleak, but that the international community should not lose heart. It should recognize the immense value of the Council and the wider human rights system and acknowledge their achievements. While it was the duty of the Council to challenge those who violated the rights of their citizens, the international community should also welcome the progress of those Governments committed to change, to making improvements, and to engaging constructively with the Council and the mechanisms at its disposal.
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