Thank you Mr. President.
ARTICLE 19 thanks the Commission of Inquiry for their update, which, once more, paints a disturbing picture of the human rights situation in Burundi. We deeply regret the persistent and egregious violations of the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association rights.
The ruthless repression of dissent since 2015 has seen journalists, human rights defenders, political opposition and their sympathisers, and peaceful protesters targeted with arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture, including sexual violence. Impunity for all such attacks is near absolute.
Overall, more than 100 journalists have fled the country in the face of intimidation and attacks by the state security forces and the Imbonerakure youth wing of the ruling party. Many who have remained in the country, have turned to self-censorship in fear of harsh reprisals.
The government has seized control of the official narrative, depriving the public of their right to know. Only one daily newspaper – le Roveneau – remains operational int he country: it is owned, and directed by the State. Independent media have been systematically silenced: either forcibly closed, or subject to intense state scrutiny and interference.
In April 2018, the editor-in-chief of Insanganiro Radio – which has been subject to a campaign of harassment over several years – was summoned for questioning by the National Intelligence Service in relation to the station’s editorial policies, and collaboration with stations broadcasting in exile. In May, broadcasting by the BBC and Voice of America was suspended for 6 months ahead of the Constitutional Referendum, for ‘violating the law governing the press and ethics’.
We agree with the Commission that the forthcoming elections can only be credible, free and fair if onerous restrictions on the media are lifted, and the public has access to diverse and pluralistic viewpoints to inform their votes.
Regressive legislative reforms, including those regulating demonstrations, the press, and non-profit organisations have been central to the government’s efforts to systematically choke off civic space in recent years. We share concerns at a new directive implementing ‘ethnic quotas’ and placing new financial controls on foreign NGOs operating inside the country, which have already led to the withdrawal of several humanitarian actors and suspension of numerous others. We call on the government to repeal the directive, and commit to a comprehensive programme of legislative reform to fully protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
We regret the closure of the office of the OHCHR in February, at the insistence of the government: the technical assistance of oHCHR is sorely needed to bring about meaningful change. In the seeming absence of political will to work constructively to improve the human rights situation, we ask the Commissioners what more must this Council do to safeguard civic space in Burundi?
I thank you.