Burundi is emerging from a long and painful ethnic conflict between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis which, between 1972 and 2000, cost the lives of approximately 300,000 Burundians and left hundreds of thousands displaced. In line with the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accords of August 2000, a new Constitution was elaborated and adopted by referendum in 2005, establishing the terms by which the two ethnic groups would share power and recognizing fundamental human rights for all Burundians. The Arusha Accords also provided for the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms.
Though the 2010 communal, parliamentary and presidential elections where considered generally successful given that they did not lead to large-scale violence, there were a number of human rights violations. Civil and political liberties were restricted and there was an increase of political violence and acts of intimidation against opposition parties, human rights defenders and journalists. Following the presidential elections, violations of the rights to freedom of expression and of opinion increased further. The activities of civil society and NGOs were also severely restricted. While few violations of the right to life were reported during the first half of 2010, a series of grave incidents occurred in the second half of the year.
In December 2010, with UN Security Council Resolution 1959 (2010), the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) was established to replace BINUB. The HR&J section within BNUB is mandated with supporting efforts to fight impunity, particularly through the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms to strengthen national unity, promote justice and promote reconciliation within Burundi’s society, and providing operational support to the functioning of these bodies; promoting and protecting human rights, including strengthening national capacities in that area, as well as national civil society. The Office works in strict cooperation with UN Human rights mechanisms, including the independent Expert in the situation of human rights in Burundi.
Burundi faces numerous ongoing systemic problems. The judiciary continued to struggle to assert its constitutionally enshrined independence. In addition, impunity for a number of emblematic murder cases has continued, with no progress in the judicial process. Burundi did not make much progress in the development of legal norms protecting human rights. Although the revision of the Criminal Code in 2009 produced several significant advances for human rights, including the criminalization of acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, virtually no progress was made in ensuring that legislative reform becomes a reality.
The long awaited draft law on an Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) was finally adopted on 14 December 2010 by the Parliament after a lengthy process has been marked by many delays. In May 2011, the national Assembly elected the seven members of the INHRC.
The establishment of transitional justice mechanisms represented an integral element of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accords of August 2000. In 2010, national consultations with affected sectors of the Burundian public, facilitated by a Tripartite Steering Committee (TSC) -comprising representatives of the Government, the UN, and civil society, were completed, the report brought to closure, and a copy unofficially transmitted, as a courtesy, to the President’s Office on 26 April. The report of national consultations on the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms was finally published in December 2010.
The lack of basic guarantees and public commitment to the enjoyment of social and economic rights have precipitated a series of crippling strikes in the education and health sectors, which in turn has impacted on Burundi’s poorest. While the country is making some progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is unlikely that any will be achieved by 2015.
The HR&J undertook initiatives to promote peaceful coexistence, based on respect for civil and political rights. Nationwide trainings on human rights in electoral context were held ahead of the elections with a variety of stakeholders, including authorities, civil society, journalists and politically affiliated youth.
Internal databases were set up to keep track of emerging trends of grave concern, namely, politically motivated arrests, security incidents, and acts of torture, thus enabling accurate, speedy analysis in the unfolding situation and the provision of dependable, analytic reports.
During Burundi’s five-month electoral period, the HR&J monitored and reported alleged violations, including wide-scale arrests of opposition party members and reports of acts of torture by State agents.
A strategy to strengthen the access to justice was developed, and many projects were launched in this area.
The Division monitored all laws, policies and processes to ensure they were not discriminatory against women and undertook advocacy to stop discrimination. In particular, OHCHR worked closely with the "Nyubahiriza" Network of Women Leaders on a variety of public issues affecting women, with workshops, seminars and awareness raising campaigns organized to help improve dialogue between civil society and local authorities.
The main priorities of the BNUB’s human rights component for 2011 are:
The Office will continue to advocate for the establishment, without further delays, of transitional justice mechanisms, in compliance with the provisions of the Arusha Accords.
Human rights mechanisms
BNUB will continue to work with the Government to implement the recommendations made by treaty bodies and the UPR Working Group. The Office will also support national authorities for the submission of reports to the human rights treaty bodies.
The Office will provide multiple forms of support for the establishment of the National Independent Human Rights Commission, including technical assistance for strategic planning and resource mobilization.
Security forces and civil society
The office will strengthen the capacity of selected security institutions to deliver and evaluate trainings in human rights and provide training resources to strengthen civil society capacity.
The Office will support the improvement of the independence, integrity, and performance of Burundi’s justice system through structural reforms, strengthening of the rule of law and fighting against corruption.
Priority will be given to activities addressing vulnerable groups, including victims of sexual violence, persons with albinism and the discriminated Batwa minority.