JOHANNESBURG – It’s becoming increasingly difficult to work as a human rights activist in Burundi as the authorities ban and suspend a number of civil society organisations.
The United Nations (UN) has warned of growing repression of human rights defenders and groups amid the already difficult environment in which the work.
Also worrying, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Monday were two bills adopted by the National Assembly of Burundi last December that require local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to obtain authorisation from the Minister of the Interior for any activity and that the work of foreign NGOs must comply with priorities set by the government.
“These moves are just the latest in a series of attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and association in Burundi,” said the rights experts.
“Disturbingly, these measures take particular aim at human rights defenders and independent civil society, and are being used to unduly obstruct and criminalise their work on broad and often fallacious grounds.
“Authorities in Burundi banned five civil society organisations in October 2016. In December 2016, they also barred two other groups, one of which was working for good governance and the fight against corruption. Additionally, four other organisations have also been provisionally suspended.”
Also in the release, the experts reiterated the “unanimous” strong stance of various bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council – the inter-governmental body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world – on allegations of serious human rights violations in Burundi.
The experts called on the governmental to “an end to the climate of impunity currently prevailing in the country” and to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and with OHCHR in a positive and collaborative manner, as an essential step towards ending the major crisis facing the country.
“It is crucial that the state promotes and protects the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Burundi is a State party,” they said.
“All individuals, including human rights defenders, have the right to express themselves and associate freely, without fear of threats, intimidation, violence, arbitrary detention or enforced or disappearance,” the experts added.
The human rights experts voicing their concern included:
• Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
• Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
• David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression
• Agnès Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
• The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
– African News Agency (ANA)