Report of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-24/1 (A/HRC/33/37) (Advance unedited version)
This is the final report of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) established pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-24/1. The report covers violations and abuses of human rights from 15 April 2015 to 30 June 2016. The experts find that gross human rights violations have and are taking place, committed primarily by State agents and those linked to them. These gross violations are systematic and patterned and impunity is pervasive. While the crisis continues and even though the level of overt violence has declined, the overall level of oppression and control over the society has increased, manifested by arbitrary deprivations of life, enforced disappearances coupled with credible allegations of unacknowledged places of detention, in addition to cases of torture, other forms of ill-treatment and arbitrary detention on a massive scale. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly are virtually non-existent. Victims and witnesses are the targets of reprisals. Without determined interventions by the Government of Burundi and a renewed robust engagement by the international community, including the United Nations and the African Union, the country’s downwards spiral is unlikely to be reversed, endangering not only the rights of individuals concerned but also the overall security of the region. The experts cannot exclude that some instances of these gross human rights violations amount to crimes against humanity, and urge for independent international judicial processes to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.
1. Human Rights Council resolution S-24/1 of 17 December 2015 requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to “urgently organize and dispatch on the most expeditious basis possible a mission by independent existing experts” to Burundi, “to undertake swiftly an investigation into violations and abuses of human rights with a view to preventing further deterioration of the human rights situation; to make recommendations on the improvement of the human rights situation and on technical assistance to support reconciliation and the implementation of the Arusha Agreement.”
2. The resolution’s focus is on the current and ongoing crisis, which started in April 2015. The experts were requested “to issue a final report and participate in an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation [with the Council] at the thirty-third session”.
3. In January 2016, the High Commissioner for Human Rights appointed three independent experts to undertake the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB): Mr. Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (elected as chair); Ms. Maya Sahli-Fadel, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa; and Mr. Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence. UNIIB was thus composed of two experts from the UN and one from the African Union system, and in that sense was a joint UN/AU undertaking. Active investigations ceased at the end of June 2016.
4. By letter dated 11 January 2016, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) informed the Government about the appointment of the experts, and proposed a framework of four country visits by the experts, and the deployment of observers on the ground.
5. The Government did not respond to the request for the first visit, which consequently did not take place. Visits took place from1 to 8 March and from 13 to 17 June 2016. The scheduled last visit (September 2016), could not take place because of security considerations.
6. The OHCHR established a secretariat to support UNIIB, which was composed of five Human Rights Officers and based in Bujumbura from April to September 2016.
7. Christof Heyns presented an oral update on behalf of UNIIB to the Human Rights Council on 22 April 2016. The current report is the final UNIIB report. The experts requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose office is the repository of the archives of UNIIB, to grant access to information for purposes of accountability, where confidentiality and protection concerns have been addressed to relevant accountability mechanisms. Additionally, UNIIB has compiled a list of alleged perpetrators who were repeatedly named by victims and witnesses as responsible for gross human rights violations, to be shared with such mechanisms.
8. UNIIB thanks the Government for its cooperation in relation to the country visits and the deployment of the Secretariat. At the same time, UNIIB faced several challenges, including the fact that two of its four planned visits could not be carried out. Some victims and witnesses feared reprisals. Because of the reported presence of, and surveillance by, agents of the intelligence service and members of the ruling party youth wing, UNIIB refrained from carrying out investigations at some sites to protect witnesses and victims. While the initial access of UNIIB to government officials was relatively good, this deteriorated over time.
9. Several government officials said they were not in a position to provide information, but would do so in writing afterwards. By letter dated 19 July 2016, the experts requested specific questions to the Government, with a follow-up dated 1 September 2016. The last letter also offered technical capacity to document the alleged mass graves. Regrettably, no response was received until the day when the report was completed. The response consisted in a blanket denial of all violations.
10. Despite the constraints, UNIIB was able to collect and verify a sufficient amount of information to substantiate its conclusions.