Human rights defender arrested as International Criminal Court opens investigation
As reported previously on the Monitor, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi concluded on 4th September that it had reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi since April 2015 and asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the alleged human rights abuses in the country.
On 9th November, the ICC in The Hague announced its decision to open an investigation into crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Burundi between 26th April 2015 and 26th October 2017. While Burundi withdrew from the ICC on 27th October, the decision to investigate was made two days prior to the withdrawal, allowing the court to exercise its jurisdiction over the period when Burundi was still a state party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC. The Court will initiate a probe into the deaths of more than 1,000 people, as well as cases of torture, rape and enforced disappearances allegedly committed by state agents such as the Burundian National Police, national intelligence service, units of the Burundian army, and the youth wing of the ruling party known as the Imbonerakure. Burundi’s Justice Minister Laurentine Kanyana publicly decried the decision, saying his country has no obligation to the ICC, and that Burundi will not cooperate. Minister Kanyana further claimed that the country’s judiciary is capable of and competent in investigating and prosecuting crimes in the country. The Burundian Coalition for the ICC, among others, has expressed concerns that the authorities in Burundi could erase evidence and eliminate witnesses, and therefore requested additional funds and support for the protection of victims and potential witnesses still present in the country.
On 21st November, police arrested human rights defender Nestor Nibitanga in Gitega, after searching his home early in the morning. Police confiscated his cell phone and documents related to his work with Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH). The police have suggested that the possession of such documents could justify a charge of "threatening national security", as reported by Front Line Defenders.
Nibitanga served as the principal human rights observer in Central-East Burundi for APRODH until it was deregistered in 2016, along with a host of other organisations. According to a statement from Coalition Burundaise des Défenseurs des Droits de l'Homme, Nibitanga was being held in the headquarters of the Service National des Renseignements in Bujumbura before being transferred to Rumonge prison on 4th December.
.@hrdburundi calls for the immediate release of #Burundi #APRODH #HRD Nestor Nibitanga who's been arbitrarily detained since 22 November after police & #SNR raided his home #DefendersNotCriminals Find the English version here: https://t.co/ODr6cNsqLF pic.twitter.com/Q8OO2HFUlC— DefendDefenders (@EHAHRDP) 7 december 2017