17 September 2018
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
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.