UN expresses serious concern for NGOs and HRDs in Burundi
On 6th February 2017, the United Nations released a statement expressing grave concern over the increasingly repressive situation for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights defenders (HRDs) in Burundi, particularly in relation to several organisations banned by the government in October and December 2016. That same day, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a news release reporting on the potentially negative consequences of two laws adopted by the National Assembly of Burundi in December 2016. Under the new laws, NGOs' activities must first be authorised by the Ministry of the Interior. The legislation also requires foreign NGOs to comply with government priorities. In essence, the laws give the authorities increased power to dictate and decide civil society activities and priorities within the country.
Five UN human rights experts contributed to the statement and news release, declaring:
“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."
The government in Burundi has clamped down on the opposition by interfering with and preventing meetings and gatherings of opposition groups. A Burundian monitoring group currently operating in exile, SOS-Torture Burundi, reported that police arrested eight members of the opposition National Liberation Front (FNL) in Ngozi on 19th Februrary 2017. The eight were arrested on suspicion of holding an "unauthorised meeting." On that same day, SOS Torture Burundi reported that eight other FNL militia were arrested in Magara, and though they were later released, the authorities also accused the group of organising an unauthorised meeting.
The Burundian government has decided to boycott the fourth round of Arusha peace talks within the Inter-Burundian dialogue, which is currently being mediated by former Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa. The government stated that it would not attend the talks as there are participants in attendance who are currently under prosecution. Supporters of Burundi's president Pierre Nkurunziza welcomed the decision to boycott and had previously organised demonstrations against the talks on 4th March 2017. The demonstrations gathered thousands of people in the capital and major cities throughout the country. Independent civil society has mostly been excluded from the talks.
— SABC News Online (@SABCNewsOnline) February 18, 2017
Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana went missing on 22nd July 2016, and remains missing today. It is believed that he was taken by the police and is presumably being held in detention. Bigirimana's wife has requested that the authorities reveal the results of the investigation into her husband's disappearance. Bigirimana worked for Iwacu, the only independent newspaper still publishing news in the country today. "I feel deep sorrow. It’s hard to live without knowing where my husband is," his wife told Iwacu in an interview, expressing the frustration and grief of not knowing her husband's whereabouts. The team at Iwacu continues to follow and report on any developments in the case of their colleague's disappearance. The situation is particularly worrisome, given that the current regime has waged a war against independent media, referring to independent journalists as enemies of the people.
— IWACU Burundi (@iwacuinfo) February 23, 2017