GENEVA - The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi is doubting that promises of reform made by Burundi’s newly-elected president will result in hoped-for improvements in the country’s human rights situation. The commission has submitted its report on prevailing conditions in the country to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The three-member panel welcomes promises of political reconciliation, judicial reform and protection of the population made by President Ndayishimiye, in his inaugural address. But, the chair of the U.N. commission, Doudou Diene, says the president’s comments were full of ambiguities and contradictions.
For example, he notes the president’s remarks seemed to justify the imposition of restrictions on some public liberties such as freedom of expression, information and assembly under the guise of preserving Burundian culture.
Speaking on a video link from Paris, he said, “Such remarks are concerning, especially given that the new president’s policies will be implemented by a government composed primarily of the old guard of the late President Nkurunziza’s regime — some of whom are under sanctions for their involvement in grave human rights violations.”
President Pierre Nkurunziza died of cardiac arrest on June 8, after a brief hospitalization, while his wife was in Kenya undergoing medical treatment. A number of news outlets report he died of the coronavirus.
Commission chair Diene says gross, widespread human rights violations continue in Burundi and that it would be premature to make any pronouncements on the possible evolution of the situation under the new government.
He said, “We solemnly urge the new president of the republic to demonstrate his willingness for change by fully cooperating with the international human rights mechanisms. The immediate release of the four journalists of Iwacu, of human rights defenders … would be a significant gesture of this.”
Iwacu is one of the few remaining private media organizations in Burundi. In January, the journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted on charges of trying to undermine state security. Last October, the Committee to Protect Journalists said the four were arrested while covering unrest triggered by a clash between Burundian security forces and gunmen who had entered the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Burundi’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Renovat Gabu, rejects the commission’s report. He accuses the commission of interfering in the domestic affairs of his country and of slandering and insulting public authorities with the blessing of the U.N. council.
He calls that a flagrant violation of the U.N. charter and reaffirms his country’s refusal to cooperate with the commission.